If you drive across the Dillingham Street Bridge and look north, you will see the latest piece of the Chattahoochee River whitewater project beginning to take shape.
A take-out ramp is under construction on the Alabama side at a cost of $559,801. The ramp is being built into the Chattahoochee River in the small piece of property north of the Phenix City Amphitheater and south of where Holland Creeks dumps into the river on the Alabama bank.
The boat ramp is well under construction and is scheduled to be finished in early spring when Chattahoochee outfitter Whitewater Express launches the 2014 season. In the first year of whitewater rafting in Columbus and Phenix City, Whitewater Express drew more than 17,000 customers. Owner Dan Gilbert has estimated as many as 40,000 could go down the Chattahoochee this year.
Having rafters take out in Phenix City is desirable, said City Manager Wallace Hunter and Finance Director Steve Smith.
“We are looking at this as more than just people taking rafts out of the river,” Smith said. “This will bring more customers to Phenix City and more opportunities to Phenix City.”
The city owns or controls more than six acres in the walking distance of the ramp and amphitheater. That land is being marketed for everything from restaurants to a camp ground.
Before the year is up, Phenix City is planning to expand its Riverwalk to include an observation deck near the infamous Cut Bait rapid, a high-flow rapid that is the signature spot on the course. The observation deck and path to it are still being planned, Hunter said.
There will also be a zip line across the river near the boat ramp. Whitewater Express is paying for the zip line and it will include a tree rope course on the Alabama side.
Scott Bridge Co., an Opelika, Ala., firm that has been the primary contractor on the $24.,5 million project to build the 2.4-mile course that opened last spring, is building the take-out ramp.
The work that is being paid for by the city of Phenix City as part of a 2011 agreement with Uptown Whitewater Management LLC, the Columbus-based nonprofit corporation that manages the Chattahoochee River Park.
The ramp will be used to pull rafts off the whitewater course and could also be used to launch canoes and small boats just south of the final rapids.
“It will help us increase volume,” said Uptown Whitewater Management President Richard Bishop. “We will use it a lot during high-flow trips to allow us to get out of the raft and back up river more quickly.”
High-flow trips that can go through the intense Cut Bait rapid on the Alabama side involve two runs down the river, requiring rafters and guides to exit the river and travel by bus or van back to the starting point below the North Highland Dam near Bibb City.
Last year, the rafting company took out behind the Columbus Convention & Trade Center on the Georgia side. When the Phenix City ramp opens, there will be an option to take out at either spot.
“This definitely gives us more options,” Bishop said.