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Luke Sutton kayaks

Luke Sutton kayaks at the Casper Whitewater Park on the North

Platte River in June. Billings kayakers hope to build a similar park on the Yellowstone River at Coulson Park.

A man-made whitewater wave sought for the Billings stretch of the Yellowstone River could get a boost next week if Lockwood irrigators endorse the plan.

Kayakers and river boarders are proposing the wave for a stretch of river near Coulson Park, just downstream from the coal-fired J.E. Corette power plant. Similar man-made waves in Missoula and Casper, Wyo., are big enough to accommodate a couple of kayaks, inner tubes and the occasional surfboarder. The features are “park and play,” meaning boaters typically drive to the site and spend hours on the wave, rather than floating downstream.

The same river stretch is used by the Lockwood Irrigation District to draw water for nonhome use. A half-mile dike on the Yellowstone’s south bank feeds Lockwood irrigators. It’s an area previously used by the Coulson community in the 1890s.

The district will decide whether to issue a letter of approval for the wave at its Jan. 9 meeting. It will not be committing any funding to the cause.

“We’re actually waiting for their blessing, I guess,” said Tyler Warren of the Beartooth Paddlers Society.

Plans for a man-made wave have been in the works for years and the paddlers have scouted several locations up stream and downstream from Billings. But the Coulson Park location tops the list for several reasons. The park means accessing to the wave would be fairly easy, Warren said. Most of the land surrounding the proposed site is owned by the public, which means private property issues shouldn’t be a problem.

Historical river data for the area also suggests the wave would be built where the Yellowstone hasn’t changed course much.

Carl Peters, manager of the Lockwood Irrigation District, said the upside of pairing the wave with Coulson Park is easy to see. The park already features a segment of the community’s longest bicycle and pedestrian trail, as well as a boat launch and the scenery of sandstone cliffs towering over the Yellowstone’s south bank.

Similar projects in other communities have been successful.

In Casper, Wyo., private businesses and the local government formed a partnership to create an 8-acre riverfront park including five whitewater features on the North Platte River. The park has become a recommended stop for kayakers bound for whitewater in Idaho and Colorado.

In Missoula, the community incorporated man-made waves into its plans to replace a hazardous diversion weir that was no longer in use. The wave, coupled with an observation deck and a linear park, has become quite an attraction for sport tourists.

In 2010, Missoula played host to the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking Championships, which drew 5,000 people to the river town, which like Billings had no water features to speak of before the creation of the Brennan’s Wave.

Contact Tom Lutey at tlutey@billingsgazette.com or 657-1288.

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