A long time ago, Megan McKenzie was sent some videos by her sister-in-law after a visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, planting an idea that she could never truly stop thinking about.
“There was something so cool about the energy and that it was a man-made facility,” she said. “You don’t have to have the natural resources to develop this park. It was a why couldn’t we do this in Montgomery, Alabama?”
Fast forward all these years later and Montgomery Whitewater is nearly a reality with the complex set to open in spring 2023.
The area was available because nearly a decade ago, Montgomery almost landed a Stone Brewery production center and “when Stone Brewery didn’t come, Megan and a group of young individuals proposed the whitewater complex,” said Leslie Sanders, chairman of the Montgomery County Community Cooperative District, the owner of Montgomery Whitewater. “She kept on it, which shows that those who say one person can’t make a difference are wrong.”
Kayaking and More
Montgomery Whitewater will be a man-made whitewater rafting and recreational park within a 120-acre venue that includes one of the few recirculating whitewater parks in the country. In addition to whitewater rafting and kayaking, there will be zip-lining, mountain biking, ropes courses, climbing and more, including food and drink options.
“We look at Montgomery Whitewater as being an extension of your backyard,” McKenzie said. “We have a lot of traffic coming from North Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, people coming down to the beach. Where we are located, it’s an easy stop to stretch your legs, get something to eat and hang out at this cool facility.”
“You can just go out there and walk around, you can do ziplines, you can do kayaking or canoeing,” Sanders added. “There’s a restaurant, beer garden, a stage for bands. It lends itself to those who live there and also can attract sports tourism. And the third aspect is the competitive Olympic area — we’ve got Olympians who want to add this complex to their training schedule along with Oklahoma City and Charlotte.”
Montgomery Whitewater has recruited David Hepp to work with the complex in a general manager role. Hepp was crew and paddlesports director for the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte and also worked at Riversports Rapids in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He also has been a member of USA Canoe/Kayak whitewater slalom team.
“We want to position ourselves as bringing the outdoor recreation sports to a destination like Montgomery and position ourselves as a community hub that people can come together and enjoy the outdoors,” Hepp said. “It’s set up to be a community asset to where everybody can come and enjoy it, see a nice sunset and relax whether they are participating in the activities or not.”
Diversity a Key
Hepp said the venue is starting to prepare for the hiring process with up to 40 full-time positions available. Sanders said the group is also working to make sure that as construction continues, and businesses get involved in the project, that there is an emphasis on making sure diversity is represented in the workforce – with Montgomery Whitewater located on the west side of downtown, where there has previously not been as much development.
“It’s super important for West Montgomery,” McKenzie said. “Most of the development has been in the east and downtown. We are next to Maxwell Air Force Base and they have been an incredible partner for the men and women that are stationed there. This side of town has been forgotten and West Montgomery has had some great champions for this.”
When ground was broken on the complex last year, there were 250 people from city, county and state governments, including Governor Kay Ivey, on hand to celebrate.
“We want Montgomery to have that appealing quality of life for the younger generation and having something like this whitewater center is a catalyst for similar development,” McKenzie said. “You get this incredible facility and then we’re able to have other development come along that necessarily wouldn’t have chosen Montgomery before, and now we’re building this river district with this outdoor lifestyle theme. We hope this will be a catalyst and attract people who ordinarily wouldn’t have thought of Montgomery as a place to visit.”