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Olympic canoer talks whitewater parks in Canton, Potsdam

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CANTON - A former Olympic slalom canoeist met with residents in Canton and Potsdam on Monday to talk about building whitewater parks to bring in thrill-seeking tourists.

Scott Shipley, a three-time canoe slalom world champion, now works with S20 Engineering and Design of Lyons, Colo., to design whitewater parks for communities big and small, including the course used in the London Olympics. He held back-to-back presentations Monday in Potsdam and Canton to talk about building whitewater courses on the Raquette and Grasse rivers.

Extreme kayakers from far and near already flock to St. Lawrence County for Colton’s six annual dam releases, which turn the stretch of the Raquette River running through Stone Valley into a thrill-seeker’s paradise.

Now Canton and Potsdam want in on the action by creating less-challenging whitewater parks to appeal to families and boaters of beginner to intermediate skill levels.

The three towns would come together under the banner of the St. Lawrence County Whitewater Recreation Park.

The towns hired S2O and Mr. Shipley to examine options. The firm is in the middle of a preliminary study, which cost $46,000 and will be completed in January.

The plan is for each community to cater to a different skill level. Potsdam could have a park designed for beginners to have fun and practice while providing low-challenge thrills for more experienced boaters. Canton’s park might be a bit more challenging, meant for the intermediate kayaker.

Colton’s water is already perfect for extreme kayakers, but Mr. Shipley said creating more facilities for spectators could draw a more casual crowd to watch.

This unified effort could, in theory, pull in tourists looking to ride the rapids, watch the pros, and spend money at businesses and hotels.

“One of the reasons we’re most interested in seeing this happen is to create new business opportunities,” said Frederick J. Hanss, director of Potsdam’s Planning & Development Department.

One of the biggest problems is the area’s remoteness.

“It’s a long ways from anywhere to get here,” Mr. Shipley said. But he said kayakers are willing to make long trips if the destination is worth it, and St. Lawrence County’s proximity to Ottawa, a kayaking mecca, might encourage more people to take a detour.

The parks would be created using natural rock to create obstacles, rapids and drops. They would take the environment into account while preventing flooding or upsetting other areas of the rivers, Mr. Shipley said.

“It has to be responsible. It has to somehow fit into the habitat that’s there,” he said.

Specific locations have yet to be determined. In Potsdam a park would probably be built near Fall Island, between the Maple Street and Sandstone Drive bridges.

Many of those atthe Potsdam meeting were Clarkson University students eager for a whitewater area within paddling distance of the school’s boathouse.

The project will not be completed quickly. After the preliminary study, more studies and fundraising will need to begin.

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