Montrose Water Sports Park Among Best Surfing in Colorado
Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right (from a philosophical perspective at least) when he said you can’t step into the same river twice, but you can, sort of, do it in the Uncompahgre Valley.
As snowmelt from the San Juan mountains turns to rushing waters, outdoor enthusiasts trade their snowboards and skis for river surfboards, SUP boards and kayaks, then head down the valley where the Montrose Water Sports Park awaits. There, on the Uncompahgre River, the snow that was under your skis in January is now the water you’re surfing on.
The park was created to accommodate lots of different kinds of users from go-with-the-flow tubers to adrenaline-loving kayakers and river surfers. At 1,000 feet long and with six drop features, it is not only one of the longest runs in the state, but it offers a leisurely trip with natural obstacles, while offering surfers and kayakers the opportunity to surf the waves for a more thrilling experience. It is also ADA compliant with several put-in and take-out ramps making it accessible for the entire community.
Colorado is home to dozens of whitewater parks like this, but what makes the Montrose Water Sports Park stand out is the fact that the water flows until late fall while other river surfing hotspots are long past their best. That’s because most rivers depend on the rush of spring snowmelt for high waters, so as soon as the meltwater tapers off so does the height of man-made waves. By the time the summer rolls around, the best river surfing is tapped out at most parks. But the Montrose Water Sports Park has a secret tool for keeping the waves big and the surfing groovy all summer long: the Gunnison Tunnel.
Two thousand feet below the surface (at its deepest point), the Gunnison Tunnel diverts water from the Gunnison River and into the Uncompahgre Valley. Through an extensive irrigation system, the tunnel feeds a canal that flows into a section of the Uncompahgre River upstream of the park.
As long as the Gunnison Tunnel is open, the Montrose Water Sports Park enjoys a consistent flow.
The Gunnison Tunnel was built in 1909, and at the time it was one of the most remarkable and longest irrigation tunnels in the world, transforming the Uncompahgre Valley into profitable agricultural land. It currently supplies water to more than 80,000 acres throughout the valley. So next time you're catching a sweet wave in late August, give a nod to this unintended benefit of irrigation. The Ridgway Dam also helps keep the flow steady.
In fact, the park might not exist if it wasn’t for an idea and an invitation, sparked by the desire to help support Montrose veterans. The history of the park’s creation is a great example of how much a small town can accomplish when it rallies around a vision to make things happen. The story starts with Montrose resident Melanie Kline.
In 2012 Kline was starting a non-profit to support returning veterans called Welcome Home Montrose (known today as the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans). After seeing a news story about a Maryland-based group called Team River Runner that brings veterans together to participate in river sports, she was inspired to bring a similar program to support veterans to Montrose.
Kline got in touch with Jared Bolhuis, a member of Team River Runner, and invited him to Montrose to help her launch the operation. It didn’t take long for Bolhuis, who had been a kayak instructor with Team River Runner, to see the potential in the stretch of the Uncompahgre River that runs through Riverbottom Park. He hatched an idea for a water sports park that would be ADA-compliant and accessible to anyone with a disability, veteran and civilian alike.
Three years, and countless hours of work later, the Montrose Water Sports Park opened in 2015. It was designed by Mike Harvey, who has worked on water sports parks around the country and is the founder of Badfish SUP, one of the original river surfboard companies in Colorado. The City of Montrose, the Montrose Recreation District, and other partners all played important roles in making the park a reality, with funding support from a grant provided by Great Outdoors Colorado.
Today, Montrose residents enjoy the park all season long, but at no time more than during the annual FUNC Fest. Short for Fun on the Uncompahgre, FUNC Fest has established itself as a summer tradition since 2015. It draws in river surfers who seek to claim bragging rights in competitions, as well as families who will make their own claims to fame in the famous rubber ducky races. Food trucks, live music, and other river-themed activities make this a can’t miss summer event on the Western Slope.
Scheduled for Saturday August 13th, the FUNC festival’s seventh edition is sure to be one for the ages.