In the coming weeks the Port of Hood River will be deciding if they think a proposed cable park in the former Nichols Boat Basin represents a boon or a boondoggle for the community.
At Tuesday’s Port Commission meeting, supportive stakeholders in the project had their say.
Participants included project head Will Naito, architect Mark Vanderzanden, Mike Olsen, a cable park developer who has built and operated parks in Kansas City and Houston, Jeff Logosz, CEO of Slingshot and Pepi Gerald, owner of 2nd Wind Sports.
The Board also was read a letter by Big Winds owner Steve Gates, who had been invited to participate as a neutral party but was unable to attend.
In front of an audience of about 20 people the group presented its arguments in favor of the park and answered questions from the commissioners.
“The fundamental question here is whether or not to lease a large portion of the Nichols basin for an extended period of time for a cable park,” said Hood River Port Director Michael McElwee in setting up the discussion.
A cable park is a series of cables, attached to towers and powered by a motor, which allows wake boarders to be pulled around a body of water and often includes jumps and other terrain features.
Naito opened the group’s presentation by trying to clear up perceptions on what a cable park is and what it is not.
“It’s not an amusement park, it’s not a carnival ride; it’s a venue for athletes, families, weekend warriors, casual recreationalists to enjoy their sport in a controlled environment out on the water,” he said.
Logosz said that cable parks have made a significant impact in turning wakeboarding into a more spectator friendly sport, in the same way that terrain parks have done for ski resorts.
“Wakeboarding as a sport is boring to watch ... it’s like watching paint dry,” he said. “With a cable park the cable is constantly going so you can format it so it’s a better spectator sport ... it’s more of a stadium environment because you have everyone in one spot.”
Naito acknowledged that the cable park would regulated under state amusement park regulations (OAR 918-200, ORS 460.310), but said that was because of the broad nature of the regulation, which governs all mechanical systems designed for amusement, including ski lifts.
Several of the presenters argued in favor of the proposal by emphasizing positive economic impacts on the community and emphasizing claims of environmental friendliness and cost efficiency for cable parks versus traditional boat based wakeboarding.
“It really opens up the sport to people who otherwise may not have been able to afford it,” Olson said.
He added that the high- priced nature of many on water sports, either having to invest in a boat, windsurfing or kite boarding, kept it out of reach of many people.
He said that in his experience running cable parks he had seen it open wakeboarding to those who could not afford that equipment, and saw many parents who had brought their children for lessons eventually rent equipment and go out on cable park themselves.
He added the he felt cable parks helped to grow participation in demographics that typically are not involved in water sports, such as inner city groups, whom he said came to the park in Kansas City several times.
“The long term opportunity is we have a body of water which has been extremely limited in uses . . . and a great opportunity landed in our lap. A lot of locals have been trying to do something like this for 20 years but didn’t have the financial resources,” Gerald said.
Gerald said the local sporting goods retailers and producers would see a benefit from the cable park because “it expands the season for us,” and gives an incentive to out of town recreationalists to come to the Hood River waterfront on days where there is no wind.
“On no-wind days people decide not to come into town and you can see the evidence for that in the event site parking lot,” Gerald said.
Naito also added that basin would be open to the public in non-operating hours and that accommodations would be made for groups and businesses that currently use the basin.
Following the presentation by the group, the Commissioners had the opportunity to ask questions.
Many of those questions focused on how busy a typical cable park would be, safety concerns, and how difficult a cable park would be to remove from the basin.
Olson said a busy park averages around 100-150 riders a day. He said that in seven years in Kansas City he could only recall three incidents where ambulances responded and that a cable park could be “out and gone” from the basin in two weeks.
Commissioner Brian Shortt queried the group if businesses would want to occupy the Port’s planned business park west of the basin when they would be looking down onto the cable park.
“If the cable park goes in, we would be a tenant for sure,” Logosz said.
“I think that is the nature of your town with these recreational uses and bringing people to the area,” Naito said. I think you will get the kind of activity you want.”
The Port continues its meetings on the cable park for the next month, with a roundtable presentation by groups opposed to the cable park scheduled for Aug. 21.