Colorado and its raging mountain rapids are an eight-hour-plus drive from Wichita, and for most people, rafting or kayaking them is a once (or twice) in a lifetime adventure.
Oklahoma City’s whitewater rapids are much closer. And although they’re not surrounded with the same pristine mountain scenery, they’re a two-and-a-half hour drive from Wichita and a two-and-a-half minute drive from restaurants, bars and urban civilization.
Last weekend, Oklahoma’s new $45.2 million, 11-acre whitewater rafting and kayaking adventure park opened to the public. Called Riversport Rapids, the complex sits in the shadow of downtown and just blocks from the city’s trendy Bricktown entertainment district.
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Built in the city’s Boathouse District, the project is part of MAPS 3, a one-cent sales tax initiative approved by voters that has allowed for a long list of quality-of-life improvement projects.
It’s one of only three man-made whitewater venues in the United States. The complex allows city dwellers to raft or kayak down one of two man-made rapid channels, one competitive and one recreational. The channels are fed by six 23,000-pound pumps that send 492,000 gallons of water per minute down the channels. The rapids are created by giant blue blocks that sub in for boulders, and the park’s crew can move and rearrange the blocks to create new challenges. The rapids are so realistic that they’re being used to qualify athletes for the U.S. Olympic canoe/kayak slalom team.
Six-person rafts trips are about 90-minutes long, and during that time period, riders will get three or four trips down the channel. They don’t have to haul their rafts back up to the top, either. The current will guide them to a conveyer belt that will transport them and their boats right back to the top of the course.
People also can kayak on the rapids, though they’ll need to demonstrate ability beforehand. River kayakers with approved gear can bring their own and use it.
“It’s the real deal,” said Mike Knopp, the executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation. “These are class two to four rapids. When you get geared up and get on the rapids, you’re in the raft for quite a while. It’s very much like what you would experience in Colorado or in the mountains, but you’re downtown Oklahoma City.”
The water in the rapids isn’t from the river. It’s city water that will be treated twice a day in giant filters. Before it opened, the water had a dirty looking brown color from all the construction dust it’d absorbed, but the water will clear up, officials said.
The giant center includes more than just the rapids, though. A $49 day pass also gets visitors access to a zip line; a ropes course; climbing walls; kayak, paddleboard and bicycle rentals; and several giant slides (not waterslides, though. People ride down on carpets.)
It’s a huge complex that also has a full-service restaurant and bar, a gift shop and lots of places where people can sit on the grass or on chairs for free and just watch the activity. The park also will let paying customers use tubes to float in the flat water channel that leads to the conveyer belt. The staff plans to show an occasional movie while people float.
One of the most difficult aspects of building the complex was explaining to Oklahomans what it was, Knopp said. People now can see the rapids from the highway, and many have been peeking over the fence as construction has continued.
“There’s a big buzz,” he said. “When we first came up with this, people didn’t know what to expect. A lot of people thought of whitewater as what they would experience at an amusement park. We’ve had to sort of change the perception. This is a real raging river.”
What: An 11-acre adventure park featuring two whitewater rapids canals and many other activities
Where: 800 Riversport Drive, Oklahoma City, 405-552-4040
Admission: $49 for a day pass, which includes a rafting session plus access to all other activities, $179 for an annual pass
Ages: Children 8 and older are allowed on the rapids. Height limit for the other activities is 48 inches. A youth zone is available for children under 48 inches.
Hours: Open Friday nights and weekends until Memorial Day, then open daily
More information: riversportokc.org
Riversport Rapids quick facts
▪ The rapids are powered by six pumps that weigh more than 12,000 pounds each
▪ Each pump circulates 82,000 gallons per minute — a total of 492,000 gallons per minute
▪ The pumps would take 80 seconds to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool
▪ The competition channel will be the highest volume pumped whitewater channel in the world
▪ The recreation channel is about 1,600 feet long, while the competition channel is 1,300 feet long
▪ Roughly 2,000 people will be able to raft in a single day
▪ The conveyor that moves rafts to the top of the run can move nine fully loaded rafts or 13,500 pounds at one time