The Arkansas River Coalition again sponsored canoe and kayak rides on the Arkansas River in downtown during this year's Wichita River Festival. The group launched nearly 1,800 riders ranging in age from 1 to 84 from the riverbank by the Broadview Hotel.
Many participants asked us why this type of river recreation was not available outside of the River Festival and why access to the river was so difficult. In fact, several people told us they had thought that it was illegal to canoe or kayak the river downtown.
The continued popularity of the River Festival event, and the desire to draw people into downtown, show that it is time for the city to place (or replace) boat docks on the river to make it easier for citizens to enjoy this resource. There are multiple locations along the river that eventually could contain docks, but two logical locations downtown stand out for their ease and potential tourist draw: WaterWalk and Exploration Place.
WaterWalk is a public-private partnership between the taxpayers and the developers. Adding a park and boat dock in the vacant lot between the Wichita Boathouse and Gander Mountain would provide a public element to WaterWalk and would fit naturally with a water-themed development. Gander Mountain could rent boats of various kinds to the public and even benefit by eventually selling boats to people who find that they enjoy such recreation on a regular basis.
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Exploration Place once had a dock, and it seems logical to replace it. Parking is available north of the building, and the dock location is readily accessible. Exploration Place could rent boats as part of its admissions package, or have educational floats or numerous other activities that could utilize the river from that dock.
Additional docks could be added later: at the Delano district, allowing paddlers a convenient place to stop for food and a cold drink; two farther downriver above and below the Lincoln Street dam; and upstream at several park locations along the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers.
Our river is a beautiful natural resource, and we can and should make much more use of this resource.