Cascade, Idaho: Kelly's Whitewater Park

Shooting the rapids at Kelly's. | Peta Owens-Liston

Road Journals Blog—The day I visited Kelly’s Whitewater Park I met Kelly. Actually, I met the memory of Kelly. A bunch of us did.

A life-size bronze sculpture of Kelly Brennan was unveiled, surrounded by dozens of her family and friends. Music from a children’s choir streamed out from the Welcome Center and mixed with the gurgling river water and a sky as blue and smooth as a robin’s egg.

Kelly died in a car accident at age 23. To commemorate her, her sister and brother-in-law, Kristina and Mark Pickard started Kelly’s Whitewater Park along the Payette River in Cascade, about an hour-and-a-half north of Boise.

It was only by coincidence that I covered this story the same day as they celebrated Kelly’s memory. It added dimension to the joie de vivre the park offers.

When the park was dedicated in 2008, it was exactly what the area needed. An old mill town, Cascade had turned to tourism and recreation to sustain itself, but has been badly bruised in recent years. The 1995 folding of a nearby would-be ski resort—in the planning stages since the early 1980s—had only added to the hard times. (The property was eventually renamed Tamarak, and finally opened in 2003.)

Memorial statue. | Peta Owens-Liston

Despite being perceived as the “orphan” child in comparison to nearby and revered McCall (which most tourists must pass through Cascade to reach), I found that what this area lacked in shopping and restaurants it made up in natural gems. This included drop-dead gorgeous hikes such as Blue Lake; rumbling rivers; expansive, fishable lakes; and natural and developed hot springs.

Accomplished kayakers have long known about Cascade; the Long Valley area that swaddles the town is an adventuring paradise for them.

The Pickards knew this as well, so establishing Kelly’s Whitewater Park meant more than just hosting world-class kayaking competitions; they also wanted new and recreational kayakers to come play on the river. They even started a kayaking school for local children. The constant river flow, controlled by a dam just a mile upriver, makes the location ideal.

Mark Pickard anticipates 50,000 visitors next summer, along with a slew of new festivals and activities to be held at the park.

Considering the park’s nine acres sits atop property once occupied by the town’s old mill (which for many years presented a dilapidated sight confronting visitors entering Cascade from the south), it’s possible to imagine the park’s anticipated prosperity spilling over into Main Street and into the pockets of local entrepreneurs.

Mark told me about an 85-year-old lady, a longtime resident, who tearfully thanked him for giving her town a chance to thrive. She wasn’t likely a kayaker, but then again, this isn’t really about kayaking.

Peta Owens-Liston wrote about Cascade’s whitewater park in the May/June 2011 Oregon edition of VIA.

This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.