Nichols Basin cable park one step closer to reality

October 30, 2011

The Port of Hood River Waterfront Recreation Committee voted last week to officially support a proposed cable park within the former Nichols Boat Basin.

Although only an advisory committee to the Port Board of Commissioners, the recommendation is a significant step for Naito Development, owners of the property at the south end of the basin. Naito is planning to start construction on an 88-room hotel on the lot next spring, and as an anchor to its development plans, the Portland-based LLC is working through the approval process to create a cable park within the basin.

Cable parks - popular throughout Europe and gaining traction in the U.S. - use a simple system of cables and pulleys around the perimeter of a calm body of water. Powered by a small electric motor, the cable runs in circles, with tow handles dangling down to about arm's reach from the water. Using wakeboards or water skis, people hold on to the handles and are towed across the water at a speed of about 20 mph.

It's like wakeboarding without a boat, and the angle of pull from the cable gives riders the potential for high-flying jumps and technical tricks.

"I'd say it's a significant step," said Michael McElwee, Port of Hood River executive director. "The (waterfront recreation) committee's recommendation has significant value to the commission. The committee represents various user groups, and it includes two members of the port's board of commissioners."

Jon Davies, President of the Port Board of Commissioners, and Rich McBride, Port Commission Secretary, are currently on the WRC.

McBride, who chairs the WRC, listed a few requests the committee had in its recommendation. The requests were not conditions of the recommendation, but items the group thought were important to consider.

A cable park would mean exclusive use of a section of the basin. For safety purposes, while the cable park was operating, other users like kayakers and standup paddlers would be restricted from the area by a buoy line.

Exclusive use of the basin was the major concern the WRC had in the project. The committee recommended the design of the cable park be changed to allow for a path of open water along the entire west flank of the basin. The water path would allow other users to travel north to south in the entire basin, would accommodate the needs of an existing kayak instruction business situated in that area and would likely be good for business by allowing up-close viewing of the cable park.

The WRC's show of support is one of several hurdles Naito will have to clear for the project to break ground. Impact studies and permitting will likely take several months and, although father-son developers Bob and Will Naito express optimism, there's no guarantee in-water work will be approved.

"I think one concern people have is the impact a cable park would have," Will Naito said to the commission. "It's pretty inconspicuous visually, and the pylons and cables would not be driven into the basin floor."

Naito explained that the northern in-water supports for the cable system would be mounted onto steel plates which would sit on the ground underwater. The electric motor to operate the system, he said, is about the size of a Prius motor, and is as quite as a human conversation.

In a presentation to the port commission last month, the two said that if a cable park is not included in the development, financing for the entire project could fall through and the hotel project would not proceed on the current schedule.

If everything goes as they would like, construction on the hotel, a commercial building and the cable park will start in the spring of 2012 and be completed in about a year.

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