New whitewater adventure course proposed on Cedar River in Austin, Minnesota

A proposed new whitewater adventure course is in the works as a tourist attraction for the city of Austin, Minnesota.

The Cedar River gave Nate Smit an outdoor outlet when COVID-19 boredom struck in 2020.

"Ingot into a new hobby, which was whitewater or fishing, kayaking on the river," Smit told FOX 9. "And the dam kept getting in the way."

Further down the river, Smit saw a whitewater rapids course in Iowa and thought Austin could do it, too.

Most of the initial response was skepticism, but he went from heretic to visionary in a lot of eyes as he advocated for his idea.

The city helped fund a recent feasibility study, which included the first visual representation of the park.

"That's where it really took off, where you can show the vision, the prototype, if you will," Smit said. "People can see pictures and start getting exciting."

The course would include five rapids covering ¼-mile, moving that dam further upstream, and it would include parks along the shores as well.

The city owns almost all the property along the river including the 105-year-old dam, which once powered a mill that closed in the 1930s but now serves only recreational purposes.

Local government agencies are on board with adding whitewater rapids as part of their efforts to revive the river.
"We're trying to do that with water quality, reducing flooding, but we're also trying to do the recreational component, too," said Tim Ruzec of the Cedar River Watershed District.

Supporters say the course wouldn’t make flooding worse or damage the local fish population.

It could also be a tourist attraction for people’s far away as the Twin Cities.

"We have a lot of natural resources here and we could turn something from ordinary to extraordinary," said Nancy Schnable of Discover Austin.

The feasibility study estimated total costs at $10 million, so supporters are in a fundraising phase now.

They’re asking the Hormel Foundation to cover about 75% of the project, and are hoping donations and public funding can cover the rest.

If it all breaks right, they hope to break ground in 2026 and hit the rapids six months later.