White water rafting coming to Oklahoma City

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OKLAHOMA CITY - White water rafting in Oklahoma City was just a vision a few years ago. Today, that dream is becoming a realization.

Oklahoma City's Boathouse District has a water slide, zip line and kayaking. But, the city has its eyes on something bigger.

"The Whitewater Center just takes it up a whole 'nother notch," said Mike Knopp, executive director of the OKC Boathouse Foundation. "And, the facility itself is going to be one of the premier venues of its kind in the entire world. And, the fact that it's right downtown at the crossroads of America presents just a really powerful opportunity."

It will be a "race to the end" to finish the project, designers said. They've been hampered by problems with the dirt and weather conditions. There is still a lot of concrete to pour, dirt to move and waterproofing to be done, but 13 months into construction, crews are looking forward to what's to come.

"I think it's just a culmination of this dream that we had years and years ago of having  a world-class urban aquatic venue and to see the channels forming, and the scale of it is tremendous, and it's beyond what a lot of people are probably going to expect," Knopp said. "I'm just very proud that what we're building here in the Boathouse District, unique to Oklahoma City. You can't find this anywhere else in the entire nation."

Two buildings will house kayaks and rafts, while a third building will hold a pro shop, restaurants, bars and administrative offices.

There will also be public seating areas to overlook the water and parks.

"One out of four people to show up at these places get wet," said Jeffery Gustin, who is part of S2O Designs and led the tour of the facility Tuesday. "The other three people come with money and, sometimes, they don't know what to do with it."

The facility is designed to accommodate peak crowds of 40,000 people, Gustin said, particularly around holidays like Independence Day.

The water courses can be an elite training ground for Olympic hopefuls, but the area is being promoted as a recreational spot for all ages and ability levels.  The speed and height of the water can be controlled from the shore to make things easier or harder for a variety of individuals.

"I think that whitewater is one of the great metaphors, one of the great teachers in life," said Joe Jacobi, a former Olympic gold medal kayaker. "It helps people really experience uncertainty, take risks, do things they never imagined they would be doing."

He's thrilled to see the development in Oklahoma City.

"I think it really does so much to energize the young community here in Oklahoma City, which has been so tied to its success over the years," he said.

The project is part of MAPS 3 and is budgeted to cost taxpayers $45 million.

It is on track to be completed by March 2016.

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