By Eugene Buchanan

While paddlers reap the rewards of a new wave of river parks sweeping across the country, Boulder, Colo.-based design firm Recreation Engineering & Planning (REP) has also been busy reaping awards for its projects. The company recently received awards for its newly created river parks in both Ann Arbor, Mich. and Calgary, Alberta.

The new Ann Arbor park recently won the 2012 Michigan Recreation and Park Association’s Park Design Award for the REP-designed Argo Cascades park along the Huron River. The plan by-passed a large dam and converted the stretch of river into a new river park now enjoyed by paddlers, swimmers and other users. The annual award is given to MRPA member organizations for outstanding work in the areas of facility and landscape/site design. The project also received a Frontline Park award designation by the national City Parks Alliance for demonstrating what they believe is “an inspiring example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship.”

“It's an honor to be recognized for the Argo Cascades,” says Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Manager Colin Smith. “Many elected officials, staff and departments worked together to make the project a success, improving the recreational experience for people on the Huron River.”

Ann Arbor completed the Argo Cascades project on the Huron River last May with the $1.2 million reconstruction of the bypass channel around Argo Dam in the old millrace. For the first time since 1830, when the channel was built to power mills, the section of river became free-flowing with a cumbersome portage removed and transformed into a series of nine drops and pools for recreational use. “The Huron is now a fun and exciting destination, more than ever before,” says City Canoe Livery Supervisor Cheryl Saam. “The number of livery customers paddling has doubled since it was built.”

REP's awards continued this spring with an Award of Excellence (first place) in the categories of Community Development and Water Resources & Energy Production for Calgary's Bow River Weir Project. This project was one of only two to double-medal at this event. REP played a key role in the project by completing its original feasibility design and planning, as well as the design and inspection of the park's whitewater features. According to the judges, the development "demonstrates a highly technical project that enhances the community and environment, providing new and enhanced recreation opportunities for the public while enhancing the river ecosystems and fish habitats."

REP also recently completed a bank-restoration project along the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, dam modification/ navigability projects in San Antonio, and is spearheading additional projects in Longmont, Buena Vista, Montrose and Steamboat Springs in Colorado; new projects in Siloam Springs, Ark., and Springfield, Ohio; and additional river park projects Texas including Belton, Ft. Worth, and San Marcos.

"All these parks re-connect the communities to their local rivers and help revitalize local economies," says REP President Gary Lacy, whose 30-year-old firm has seen more than 80 projects through from inception to fruition, varying in size from the $21 million National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., to smaller projects in rural areas. "Plus, in many cases, they also convert liabilities into recreational amenities."