A proposed whitewater feature on the Yahara River in Stoughton could draw on a market of more than 400,000 paddlers and could generate millions in business spending from its use, according to an economic impact study of the concept.
Stoughton officials are planning to convert about 1,000 feet of the Yahara River into a series of pools with a whitewater park for paddlers that would bypass an existing dam. They are also exploring ways to revitalize the riverfront properties in the area.
A recent case study, completed with the help of UW-Madison, examined several whitewater parks throughout the Midwest that are comparable to what is being proposed in Stoughton. Based on 10 other whitewater parks, kayakers will spend an average of $68 per day on food, lodging, equipment and other things, according to the study.
Within a 30-minute drive of Stoughton, there are nearly 30,000 kayakers. That number increases to about 430,000 people who kayak within a 2-hour drive time area. If each one of those kayakers visited Stoughton once per year, that could generate spending of about $2 million and a little under $30 million, respectively, the study said.
“I think it really shows that if we do it right, it would be a great thing. But we have to make sure the project’s done right, and it’s an attractive place to paddle for somebody who would want to travel a distance to do it,” said Dan Glynn, the city’s parks and recreation director.
Stoughton’s proposed 2019 budget includes $220,000 for engineering costs on the whitewater park, Glynn said, that would expand on the conceptual design a consultant came up with and allow for soil and sediment testing for contaminants.
The conceptual plan also calls for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge and trails in the area with a seating area for spectators to watch paddlers go through the whitewater park.
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Stoughton is also poised to establish a new tax incremental finance (TIF) district surrounding the riverfront that could provide incentives for private development on formerly industrial, blighted properties in the area, said Mayor Tim Swadley.
The TIF district would largely target properties north of the Yahara River between Fourth Street and Eighth Street to encourage development of residential and retail uses in an area that would front the whitewater park.
Swadley said the revitalization of the riverfront area and the whitewater park would work hand-in-hand to benefit each other.
“I think the community as a whole is really excited about the prospects of both these projects,” he said.
The city is waiting to hear back from the state Department of Natural Resources if it would get grant funding that would go toward riverbank restoration, Glynn said.
— Logan Wroge