By Dan England

Before you head out to the Poudre River, you might consider cutting your teeth in downtown Fort Collins. The city’s Poudre River Whitewater Park should be flowing and going by the time you read this.

Even if you’re a boater or kayaker, you can find some fun at the park from now until mid-to-late June, said Kurt Friesen, director of park planning and development for the City of Fort Collins.

The park opened last year. This isn’t Water World or a cheap knock off. This is nature, and nature is her own boss. The river gets stronger or weaker depending on how fast the snow melts. Usually, the snow melts the most in early June, right after Memorial Day, plumping up the rivers and making them faster and rougher. That makes the park a little rougher as well, perfect for boaters who want to sharpen their skills before they take on the much tougher, unhinged Poudre up the canyon.If you’re unsure, you can check out the city’s website, fcgov.com/parks/poudre-river-park, for a guide to the flows.

The 11-acre park was long overdue, at least according to kayakers and others who wondered why Fort Collins, a pretty hip outdoors city, was waiting so long to build a whitewater park when so many other communities already had one. There are 30 others across Colorado. But it’s here now.

The park is definitely wild enough now to give boaters a short thrill or workout while it saves the time it would take to head up the canyon.

Tubers should probably wait a bit, which is probably not what some of you want to hear. But tubing is more dangerous than you think—just see this month’s article, “On the Water,” for proof—and the park doesn’t hold back the waves, either.

I took my three teenagers to the park last year, in a boat we bought in a cheaper gear store, and we had a great time in mid-August. The river was tame in most parts by then, but there was still one section in the middle that sucked our boat in and spun us around a couple times before we paddled our way out.

Recreation, as it turns out, was only one of the main reasons for improvements to the Poudre, Friesen said last March just before the park opened, even if it does get the most attention. Restoring the river to a more natural state, and its natural beauty, was another.

In acknowledgement of this, the city installed lots of well-lit walkways and places to sit outside the park, which are good for sunbathing, reading or even a fancy place to eat dinner or have a beer while you watch others ride the struggle bus through the water.