By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Oklahoma City’s new $45.2 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center, RIVERSPORT Rapids, invites the public to celebrate its grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 7-8.
The whitewater center was built in the city’s Boathouse District as part of MAPS 3, a one-cent sales tax initiative to fund projects that enhance the quality of life for Oklahoma City residents.
“You will never find a better weekend to experience all that the Boathouse District has to offer,” said Mike Knopp, the executive director of the OKC Boathouse Foundation.
“You’ll get a taste of what the Olympics in Rio are all about, see the nation’s top whitewater slalom athletes in action, watch rowing on the Oklahoma River and enjoy live music, great food and, of course, fireworks.”
Weekend festivities will feature Team USA’s Road to Rio Tour presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance. The tour will provide fans with the opportunity to meet Team USA athletes and experience interactive sport events, athlete demonstrations, as well as receive Team USA giveaways.
Oklahoma City is one of only six stops on Team USA’s nation-wide tour.
On Saturday evening, a live concert will be held in the whitewater center followed by fireworks.
The weekend celebration will also include US Olympic Trials for Canoe/Kayak Slalom on the new whitewater course. Athletes from across the U.S. will come together to compete for a chance to participate at the Rio Games.
“We’ll be putting rafters on the whitewater course during all of this,” Knopp said. “We want to let as many people as possible get on the water during this opening weekend. This is OKC’s whitewater center and we want everyone to experience it.”
The grand opening celebration will also include a rowing regatta on the Oklahoma River.
More than 1,500 youth rowers will compete in the USRowing Central District Youth Championships, a qualifier for the national championships later in the year.
Operated by the OKC Boathouse Foundation, the new whitewater center will offer recreational rafting, kayaking and tubing along with adventure activities. The venue will also provide rafting and kayaking lessons, leagues and camps.
The adventures and whitewater activities are open to the public. Day and season passes are available.
A variety of dining options will be available from Riversport Rapids’ new restaurants as well as some of Oklahoma City’s best food trucks. Live musical performances will be held throughout the weekend.
One of only three man-made whitewater venues in the nation, Riversport Rapids has six pumps that recirculate treated water through two channels to create class II-IV rapids. Flow can be adjusted to offer various levels of rafting and kayaking experiences.
“The design of this venue is not a pure whitewater one,” said Jeffrey Gustin, senior program manager at S2O Design and Engineering, the design firm behind RIVERSPORT Rapids.
“We designed a venue that provides Olympic standard whitewater but also truly provides a place for everyone to enjoy, beginner to expert.”
The recreational channel will make rafting accessible to just about everyone, according to Gustin.
Trained raft guides will steer each raft trip down the channel following a briefing to participating rafters on safety and technique.
The competitive channel offers Class IV rapids on the Olympic-style course and will challenge experienced athletes from around the world for both training and competition.
Admission to the grand opening is free; parking is $10.
Rafting passes are $49 per day and include Riversport Adventure activities. Riversport Rapids rafting and adventure passes can be purchased online at riversportokc.org and at the festival.
For more information about Riversport Rapids, visit the website.