The rafting guides already have nicknames for the rapids at Montgomery Whitewater park, which is holding its grand opening this weekend.
Those include Sweet Caroline, waves that make a sound like the distinctive “bah-bah-bah” in the chorus of the Neil Diamond classic. There’s Curly, Larry, and Moe. And there’s Baptism.
Rafting Operations Manager Anthony Lopez said those are among the most challenging waves in Montgomery Whitewater’s Competition Channel, which has Class IV rapids.
The park opened Friday with Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, and other public officials speaking at a ceremony and cutting a ribbon.
The grand opening continues through Sunday. There is plenty to enjoy in the 120-acre park in addition to the whitewater activities. There’s a restaurant, an outdoor bar, walkways, yoga, and vendors. There will be live music Friday night.
Admission to the park is free, but there will be a $10 parking fee this weekend. There are fees for the rafting and kayaking. The park is next to Maxwell Air Force Base and about a mile from downtown.
“This park will have a transformational impact on the quality of life right here in the River Region,” Sewell said.
“This is a great day for Montgomery, it’s a great day for the River Region and it’s a great day for Alabama,” Reed said.
The park cost about $90 million to build, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, and created about 120 jobs.
Lopez said he has worked at whitewater parks in Auckland, New Zealand, Charlotte, N.C., and Oklahoma.
“This one is world class,” Lopez said.
Lopez believes the park has the right mix of activities and atmosphere.
“The model of whitewater, live music, and beer, that business model, people love those things,” Lopez said. “People love being around the water. There’s something magnetic about it.
“And having that combination, that business model, will definitely draw people. It might take a minute for them to find it. But once they find it, I think they’ll fall in love with it.”
He said raft rides take about 90 minutes, including the safety instructions and other preparations, with a full hour on the water. The rafts can carry up to six people, not counting the guide. Every raft has a guide. Lopez said guides are needed because of the complicated currents and eddies.
“If you’re in a raft and you get caught in a hard eddy, you’re not going to be able to get out if you don’t have a guide telling you how to do it,” Lopez said.
But the others in the raft are not just passengers.
“You’re not sitting, you’re paddling,” Lopez said. “So the guide is controlling his crew, telling them when to paddle, when not to paddle. Telling when there’s dangerous spots.”
Although Montgomery Whitewater is now open, the project is not finished. More activities are planned as part of another phase of development. That is expected to include rock climbing, mountain biking, rope courses, and access to the Alabama River for kayaking and paddle boarding. An on-site hotel and retail stores are also planned, according to Montgomery Whitewater.
Funding for the the park, including the taxpayers’ share, has not been without controversy, party because of rising costs. When the park was announced in 2019, the estimated cost was $50 million. Construction began two years ago.
This year, Gov. Kay Ivey proposed allocating $25 million of a $2 billion education budget surplus to the Montgomery County Commission for the project. The Legislature did not approve that but did allocate $5 million from the state General Fund to the county commission for Montgomery Whitewater.
“We can all stand up here and smile today but it hasn’t been all smiles,” Montgomery Mayor Reed said during today’s program. “That’s the nature of progress. Progress is pushing forward. It is never just one straight line. It takes some hills and valleys.”