Poudre River Whitewater Park


The Poudre River Whitewater Park is a co-created, treasured downtown public space along the Poudre River for all residents and visitors to enjoy. The park appropriately balances the safety, environmental, economic, and recreational needs of community members, creating an enduring legacy for future generations. The park recognizes and celebrates the historic contributions of the Poudre River to agriculture, industry and recreation through interactive and engaging art, sculpture, and interpretation. The native and riparian vegetation throughout the park enrich the visitor experience and promote and demonstrate sustainable strategies including water conservation, integrated stormwater management, and site restoration. The park infuses new economic activity into a formerly industrialized area of the city that has historically suffered from crime, negative behavior, poor wildlife movement, and flooding. The park has been enthusiastically received by community members, businesses, river enthusiasts and environmental advocates alike. Thoughtful and collaborative planning efforts followed by an integrated, holistic park design resulted in renewed trust from residents and stakeholders, with a charge to ultimately complete an interconnected river park system in downtown.


Purpose, Approach, Context and Significance

For millennia, the Poudre River has been the lifeblood of Fort Collins; a sacred resource and refuge for native tribes including the Apache, Comanche, Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. In the 1800’s, the river became a destination for settlers and ultimately a military post, Camp Collins, the namesake of the city today.  Proximity to clean water and a mild climate resulted in the emergence of “white gold”, or the sugar beet, a thriving agricultural industry in the early 1900’s.  Industry and commerce grew along the banks of the river as the city emerged as a destination for travel and tourism. Like many American cities, the river was eventually neglected and largely forgotten. A landfill was placed at the riverbanks in downtown. An underground coal tar leak polluted the river, resulting in a costly clean-up effort. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the city renewed efforts to restore the river, making it a haven for wildlife and riparian vegetation. This preservationist approach resulted in a healthier river corridor, but also one that disconnected the people of Fort Collins from the river, especially through the downtown area. In 2013, a master plan was developed with a primary objective to balance the environmental health of the river with the needs of residents to engage with the river in new ways.

The Poudre River Downtown Master Plan provides an inspiring vision and plan for over three miles of the Poudre River through downtown. River use zones are identified in the plan, including natural, urban interface, and transition zones.  These zones were developed in response to specific ecological, economic, and sociologic needs. The master planning process included robust community and stakeholder involvement and opened the door for future philanthropic partnerships, which were key in the success of the whitewater park project. The master plan seeks to balance three primary goals: improved safety, natural systems, and recreation. Previous efforts to improve the downtown stretch of the river failed, as there was typically a focus on only one of these objectives. By looking holistically at all three, the plan re-imagined how the river could be experienced without compromising ecological integrity.

Following completion of the master plan and adoption by City Council in 2014, the whitewater park was identified as the first project for implementation. The whitewater park site is approximately 12 acres in size and extends downstream from College Avenue to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad trestle. The north boundary of the park is Vine Drive, a former industrial area that is now emerging as part of the Innovation District, home to new business incubator spaces and new technologies. The park is anchored on the south by the Colorado State University Engines Lab, a world-renowned facility located in the historic power plant building that once produced electricity for the city.

Park features include two in river whitewater boating features, treasured by kayakers, paddleboarders and tube enthusiasts alike. The upper feature is designed for beginners, while the lower feature is more advanced.  A pedestrian bridge over the river provides a critical link to the regional trail system, providing park access for pedestrians and cyclists from across the community, and a prime vantage point for watching river enthusiasts working the waves in the river below. An overlook plaza on the south bank is a preferred spot to stop and enjoy the river, especially trail users. The overlook plaza includes a wave shelter, a custom art installation inspired by the frothing bubbles and churning of whitewater. Bar seating at the edge of the river creates an environment typical of a local micro-brewery, which are plentiful in Fort Collins, often referred to as the Napa Valley of Beer.  Locally harvested sandstone terraces provide ample seating for events. Trees harvested from the site were used to create additional custom seating areas. Park amenities include a changing room, bike racks, signage, plentiful walks and parking.

 Environmental Sensitivity and Sustainability

The Poudre River Whitewater Park responds directly to environmental, economic, and social needs. Removal of a large diversion structure on the river was central to restoring the river morphology, enabling the river to function as a river as opposed to a small reservoir. Fish passage channels integrated into the whitewater features enable small native fish to move freely up and down the river. The park includes extensive native restoration of the riverbanks, including over 3,000 willow whips and other riparian and native species.

The Coy irrigation channel historically directed flows from the river for irrigation purposes. As those irrigation needs no longer exist, the channel was repurposed to collect stormwater runoff from the adjacent roadway and industrial area to the north, redirecting stormwater flows through the channel to a preserved wetland before returning to the river.

Acquisition of seven derelict properties along Vine Drive enabled the park to be a vibrant and relevant public space along the river, benefiting residents and businesses, downtown visitors, river enthusiasts and trail users. The property acquisitions were central in creating views into the river and improving safety and visual access from Vine Drive, virtually eliminating crime and negative behavior in the area.

The park creates new economic activity in this industrialized area in several ways.  By removing the Coy diversion structure and lowering the river, flooding of College Avenue, the primary transportation corridor through the city, is significantly reduced. In addition, the narrowing of the floodway provides new development opportunities for new business incubator spaces as part of the Innovation District. New development emerged here almost immediately following completion of the park.

The park provides the only handicap accessible entry into the river, enabling visitors with special needs to fully participate in river recreation activities.

 Special Factors

In the 1980’s, the city acquired the first recreational water right in Colorado, establishing the need for recreational uses on the river and enabling other communities to pursue in stream recreational rights throughout the state. In partnership with the Poudre Heritage Alliance, this significant historical event is recognized in the park as part of a unique sculptural piece that celebrates the agricultural, industrial, and recreational heritage of Fort Collins.

During construction, the contractor uncovered a 100-year-old infiltration gallery located beneath the bed of the river that was used to collect and distribute river water for cooling the adjacent historic power plant. With an urgent need to complete the river work during the winter season, an archeologist was called to the site to quickly record and map the gallery and associated infrastructure.  Once completed, construction resumed and the spring deadline for river work was met.



Plant List


  • American Plum
  • Western Catalpa
  • Skyline Honeylocus
  • Scrub Oak
  • Bur Oak
  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Chokecherry
  • Chanticleer Pear


Deciduous Shrubs

  • Saskatoon Serviceberry
  • Leadplant
  • Serviceberry
  • Silver Sage
  • Four Winged Saltbrush
  • Crimson Pygmy Japanese Barberry
  • Rubber Rabbitbrush
  • New Mexican Privet
  • Common Ninebark
  • Yellow Gem Potentilla
  • Sand Cherry
  • Three Leaf Sumac
  • Golden Current
  • Wood’s Rose
  • Silver Buffaloberry
  • Western Snowberry Cluster
  • Dwarf European Cranberry Bush


Evergreen Shrubs

  • Creeping Barberry
  • Miniature Mugo Pine
  • Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce


Perennials and Ornamental Grasses

  • Blonde Ambitions Grama Grass
  • Indian Grass
  • Native Grayfeather
  • Native Blanketflower


Upland Seed Mix

  • Indian Blanketflower
  • Mexican Hat
  • Side Oats Gramma
  • Blue Gramma
  • Switchgrass
  • Western Wheatgrass


Upper Riparian Seed Mix

  • Smooth Aster
  • White Prairie Clover
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Indian Blanketflower
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Big Bluestem
  • Salt and Pepper Grass
  • Inland Saltgrass
  • Streambank Wheatgrass
  • Switchgrass
  • Western Wheatgrass
  • Fowl Bluegrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Yellow Indiangrass
  • Prairie Cordgrass


Lower Riparian Seed

  • Marsh Sunflower
  • Pennsylvania Smartweed
  • Goldenglow Daisy
  • Blue Verbena
  • American Sloughgrass
  • Inland Saltgrass
  • Giant Mannagrass
  • Fowl Bluegrass
  • Prairie Cordgrass
  • Spikerush
  • Artic Rush
  • Hardstem Bulrush
  • Alkali Bulrush
  • Common Three-Square


Upper Riparian Trees

  • Rocky mountain maple
  • Boxelder
  • Thinleaf Alder
  • Water Birch
  • Lanceleaf Cottonwood
  • Plains Cottonwood
  • Peachleaf Willow


Upper Riparian Shrubs

  • Desert False Indigo
  • Variegated Dogwood
  • Pin Cherry
  • Boulder Raspberry


Willow staking/bank protection

  • Bebb Willow
  • Sandbar Willow Cluster
  • Strapleaf Willow
  • Greenleaf Willow

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):