Described as the city built around the river, Salina resident Amanda Weishaar said she takes any opportunity to get outdoors.
“I like to be mentally and physically fit,” she said. “I run around the river about three to four times a week.”
But she said her runs are not as pretty as she hoped for.
“It’s disturbing. I mean it’s a shame,” Weishaar said. “It is ugly, and there’s a lot of debris down there.”
The problem stems from the lack of moving water due to a levy that the U.S Army Corps built for flood control in the 1960’s.
“It was built to protect the city from floods, and they passed the water out of the city,” Salina Director of Utilities Martha Tasker said.
Consequently, there is slow moving water and debris.
“Gross water is a good word for it,” Tasker said.
But now, city officials want to take the river from drab to fab with a multi-phase project called The Smoky Hill River Renewal.
The first phase includes construction to the river to make the water flow, recreational trails along a 6.8 mile path, and an urbanized plaza at Fourth Street and Iron Avenue Plaza.
“The plaza will have the ability to have some stair steps, seating area and it will have a walk that’s down at the river channel,” she said. “Also, a pavilion, playground place for recreation and food trucks to park. It’s kind of just a fun place to go if you’re downtown.”
Along with the urbanized plaza, residents can expect hiking trails and areas to fish, hike and kayak.
“We want people to enjoy the outdoors,” she said.
Tasker said she doesn’t know the total price of the project, but she’s guessed around $100 million over the next decades.
“It’s really going to happen,” she said. “After all these decades of planning, we’re finally going to complete a project. We have water rights. We worked with the division of water resources.”
So far, phase one will be funded through a $10 million grant from the U.S. Army Corp. Engineers, dollars from the Kenwood Cove swimming pool project and other areas from the city budget.
Construction for phase one is expected to begin in 2020 and be completed in 2022.
Tasker said the city is still looking for additional grants for the other phases, which will be at Founders Park and Western Star Mill, Kenwood Park East Gateway and Greeley Bridge.
Through extensive public outreach, Tasker said the renovated river will be an asset to downtown and its residents.
City officials encourage the public’s input at the city meetings. You can find the upcoming dates here.