When a river runs through it, a city gains scenic and recreational advantages. The pioneers settling Reno, early recognized the beauty and commercial potential of the Truckee River on its journey from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. They built mansions overlooking the river and the community that grew up near it. They developed parks along its banks. They used its water to supply city needs, float logs from timber cut in the Sierras and irrigate pastures and crops.
Reno became Nevada's most populous town, billing itself "The Biggest Little City in the World," until Las Vegas boomed. The river remained dear to the city's heart. People caught trout from city bridges and kids chased crayfish downtown. They wrote a song about Nevada and the Truckee's "silvery rills" that every Nevada school kid learned to sing.
However, as the city matured, the riverbanks on its outskirts became increasingly industrialized with unattractive commercial developments and pollutants dumping into the water. The old downtown began to look shabby. The parks attracted vagrants. The riverbanks turned into dangerous places for walkers. The Truckee became an eyesore in may places. And it behaved badly at times, overflowing its banks, flooding low-lying areas and cutting the city in half.
These days Nevada's signature river receives the respect it deserves, at least where it runs through downtown Reno. Included in major urban redevelopment, the Truckee River today enhances the appeal of Reno's core.
Revamped parks attract visitors. Walkers and joggers used a beautiful system of trails laid out along the urban potions of the river. Gardens, statuary, murals, shade trees and plenty of places to sit bring people to enjoy the river and many special events. The revitalized river district now boasts new cafes, bars, boutiques and art galleries within blocks of downtown resorts and casinos.
Development of a whitewater park downtown enhances the river's recreational potential for water sports. The Truckee River White water Park creates two channels separated by Wingfield Island. Designed to generate rapids appealing to river runners, the channels course through 2,600 boulder-strewn feet with nearly a dozen drop pools, creating a kayak slalom course and challenges for novice and intermediate river runners.
Developed as a park, Wingfield Island boasts open greenswards, plantings, picnic areas and an outdoor amphitheater. Footbridges span the water courses. Flat boulders placed along the riverbanks provide access and seating. River sports enthusiasts flock to the white water so conveniently located in the heart of the city. Crowds of people follow to watch and enjoy time spent near the Truckee.
The success of the Truckee River Whitewater Park since completion in 2003 spurred Reno's neighbor, Sparks, to devise a whitewater attraction three and a half miles downstream, slated to begin construction this summer. River runners rejoice over the possibilities now available in the area where floating, tubing, canoeing and kayaking remain popular pastimes. The new attractions on the Truckee augment the available choices, including favorite Nevada waters like the Carson and Walker Rivers not far distant from the Reno-Sparks area.
Active whitewater sports sound intriguing, but learn something about these activities before investing in equipment. Take instruction and rent equipment before setting out on your own. Try a kayak expedition in our area on the Colorado River first to find out if you really like it. Water sports adventures abound in nearby Utah. If the Truckee River experience draws you, plan a Reno visit, check out area whitewater outfitters and see what's new on the river that runs through it.
The fourth annual Reno River Festival, Thursday-May 13, draws world class kayak aces for competitions ranked among the nation's best. Festival attendees enjoy watching keen competitors, seeing demos of skills, touring exhibits of equipment and products, participating in clinics for kayakers of all levels and pausing to listen to live music. For more information on this event, access renoriverfestival.com.
Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.