"One of the greatest things that have happened to Cascade is having the university work with us. It's changed our future."
– Cascade Mayor R.W. "Dick" Carter

Banner Photo: Kelly's Whitewater Park

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Cascade

University Helps Jumpstart Community Revitalization in Cascade

By Joni Kirk

“How can we bring life to our community?”

That was the question asked by Cascade in 2007. The answer for the central Idaho city was found through hands-on community work by the University of Idaho. And the first visible component of the community's new vision – a whitewater park on the Payette River – was unveiled this June.

Between 1990 and 2000, Idaho was one of the five fastest-growing states in the U.S. However, Cascade's population didn’t boom like larger cities within the state, and the historic timber and mining town still faced critical economic, ecological, cultural and planning challenges.

"We were ready for a new and unique vision," says Cascade Mayor R.W. "Dick" Carter.

In 2007, a Horizons program workshop jumpstarted a new visioning process for Cascade. The Horizons program is a seven-state initiative funded by the Northwest Area Foundation to reduce rural and reservation poverty; in Idaho, it's managed by University of Idaho Extension.

"The motivation and ideas presented by Extension were readily received by our community. We realized this was more than talk – it was doable," says Carter. "We were motivated to get going. With the instruction provided from the Horizons workshop, things just took off."

In fall 2008, the University of Idaho's Building Sustainable Communities Initiative and the College of Art and Architecture joined the project to help create a participatory and grounded vision for Cascade. They developed concepts for community design that involved green infrastructure, community wellness, civic architecture and affordable housing. Students and faculty also created a regional asset website, developed economic feasibility studies for community projects and provided assistance with the Cascade’s comprehensive plan.

"The students wanted to do a lot, and we welcomed them with open arms," says Carter. "They were fresh, they had new ideas and they weren't afraid to share with us. They had horizons without limits, and they brought a great enthusiasm to Cascade that made us want to do more and be more."

Among the ideas was the whitewater park, which would stimulate tourism activity. In March 2009, a generous $500,000 gift to the Friends of the Cascade Whitewater Park from Mark and Kristina Pickard of Miami, Fla., jumpstarted the work on the project, which was named in honor of Kristina’s late sister, Kelly Brennan.

Preliminary economic analysis suggests that Kelly’s Whitewater Park could generate in excess of $1 million in retail business annually to area merchants.

"The energy of the park development and donor involvement catalyzed the community and created a new vision," says Steve Drown, professor and chair of Landscape Architecture and Extension education specialist in Bioregional Planning and Landscape Architecture. "It has given the community a new drive to look at comprehensive plan work and entrepreneurial opportunity."

The park features five man-made features, and offers kayakers, rafters, canoeists and even tubers an exciting place to play and train. A Welcome Center uses photographs, artifacts and articles to focus on the Native Americans that inhabited the valley, the first settlers, the first industries – mining and timber, along with agriculture and now recreation. The river side of the building is stepped down the bank and provides amphitheater seating with a 180-degree view of the river and the features.

"We accomplished many years worth of work in a single year," says Carter.

Plans are in development to expand the park to a full 200 acres along the river, build a new community recreation center, convert lagoons into a large wetland and re-evaluate the area's master plan.

"We want our community to be a destination – a place where people intentionally come visit, stay, walk around and enjoy what we have to offer," says Carter. "We plan to continue working with the University of Idaho. It's been an absolutely marvelous relationship with the professors and students. One of the greatest things that have happened to Cascade is having the university work with us. It's changed our future."