It’s been 15 years in the planning stage, with the last two encompassing full-blown construction to include blasting away dams, shifting rocks, moving earth and installing a concrete wave shaper.
This morning at 10, the wait is over.
What has been billed as the longest stretch of urban whitewater in the world — 2.5 miles in length — will have its official grand opening with a few remarks by public officials, followed by a flow of yellow rubber rafts through the rapids.
Several hundred genuine whitewater enthusiasts, along with those new to the recreational activity, are expected to take a ride down the Chattahoochee River. Their ultimate target will be the waves known as “Heaven’s Gate” and “Cut Bait.”
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But it’s also a fair bet that the long anticipated debut of the attraction, which cost $24.4 million in private and public money to transform into reality, will generate a wave of curious sightseers and plain-old gawkers to the downtown area.
“We think it’s going to be real busy,” Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., said Friday as he scrambled to put the finishing touches on what should be one of the more crowded Saturday mornings in recent memory.
“When we had Color Me RAD, with almost 4,500 people here, we had very few traffic issues then, although it was a little earlier in the morning,” Bishop said of the late March race and walk that raised some money for the Children’s Miracle Network. “I think we’ll be in good shape if everybody just uses the parking decks. If they come to some available on-street parking, they can take advantage of that. But we’ve got a lot of parking deck capacity.”
Bishop said he has hired 10 off-duty police officers to provide security and work traffic control. There also will be message boards set up on Second Avenue and Veterans Parkway directing those who wish to check out what whitewater’s all about, as well as a few other events expected to draw sizeable crowds.
That includes Market Days on Broadway from 9 a.m.-noon; the Uptown Dragon Boat Festival and races, which should begin around noon and run to 5 p.m.; and a Phenix City Amphitheatre concert at 8 p.m., featuring former Grand Funk Railroad lead singer and guitarist Mark Farner. Fireworks will follow the show.
The whitewater kickoff, however, will be the focus at 10 a.m., with Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe and John Turner, chairman of the Chattahoochee River Restoration Committee, giving a few remarks near the lower powerhouse off the riverwalk before the rafting action begins on the Chattahoochee.
“We’ll have everybody down there, all of our owners and residents and renters. It will be a real festive affair,” said Mat Swift, a W.C. Bradley Co. executive whose Eagle & Phenix condo and apartment complex built inside a former textile mill overlooks the final portion of the whitewater course.
“I did it last Friday and had a ball. It was terrific,” he said of the rafting experience.
Those looking for places to view people on the water should do so from the riverwalks in Columbus and Phenix City. In Columbus, from 12th Street and south should be a prime place to stand and watch people bounce around in the rafts — and occasionally get dumped out.
On the Phenix City side, the riverwalk should offer good viewing, ranging from the 14th Street pedestrian bridge — which remains closed until August — to just past the 13th Street bridge. There are some trees and vegetation that obscure the view in areas, however.
Bishop simply had a few words of caution for everyone venturing to the downtown area.
“There will be a lot of pedestrians down here walking around,” he said. “Just tell them all to be careful.”