Get Started

We have decades of experience turning back of
napkin sketches into signature river parks.

Let’s be real, river projects are tough.
We’re here to guide you and your community through the process. Regardless of your role or where you are in the process, we’d love to explore your ideas and help you unwind what’s possible in your community.

River Park 101

From strategic messaging to finding funding and technical solutions, we have done this many times before. Here’s some basics to give you an idea of what’s possible and how we can help.

River and whitewater parks are almost always created in urban areas. Why? Because they are near a lot of people. Successful river parks feature moving water, whitewater and waves, that engage diverse recreational use – kayaking, surfing, rafting, SUP, and others.

The water experience forms the backbone and makes these parks special. Great river parks also provide quality access to and from the water. These access points connect people to the water and provide low hazard entry and exit. Upland amenities associated with river parks often include parking, restrooms, walking trails, and terraced seating.

The impacts of river parks extend far beyond the banks of the river. Social benefits include new opportunities for recreation, active lifestyles, and reconnecting with nature in and around healthy rivers. Local economies benefit through increased tourism as well as the renewed ability to attract and retain businesses and residents. River parks also typically enhance existing infrastructure, improving safety while ensuring critical community needs are met.

When McLaughlin Whitewater designs and plans a river project, it’s with the intent of restoring the environment, building community, and lifting local economies. We work tirelessly with communities and infrastructure owners because we know these projects have the power to redefine local economies, provide safety, improve river health, create healthy lifestyles through recreation, and reconnect communities to their rivers.

Successful river park projects require support from the entire community. As you read through the process below, consider each aspect of the process not just from your own perspective but also those of the other advocates, enthusiasts and decision makers involved. Educate yourself so that you can ask the right questions along the way to keep your project on track.

Most successful projects start with a group of highly motivated, passionate advocates or community leaders relentlessly pursuing the idea. Collaboration and building consensus are a major part of our approach to successful projects and you can be a big part of that process.

We’re here to help! We love rivers and have been making them better for decades. We have broad experience with all types of river park and urban restoration projects. Our attention to all aspects of river park projects from habitat and fish passage, to infrastructure and safety allow us to design innovative yet proven whitewater projects.

McLaughlin can provide all the services needed to see your river park project from the initial planning stages all the way through to completion. We offer:

  • Visioning & Planning
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Feasibility
  • Design
  • Permitting
  • Funding Support
  • Construction Support
  • Start up & Operations


How Does the Mclaughlin
Process Work?

Seeing river parks and urban river restorations through to completion involves the following broad stages.

  • Feasibility
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Design and Permitting
  • Construction
  • Post-Construction

Can the project be built? What opportunities and challenges are inherent? Where is the best site?

During this phase, we define the goals and vision for the project. Key deliverables include inventory of existing conditions, initial project budgets and renderings of the project.

Below are areas we assess when determining project needs and feasibility.

  • Degraded river environments, which are common to urban areas with infrastructure-manipulated rivers
  • Key river conditions for whitewater and waves
  • Safety concerns due to existing dams, infrastructure and limited access
  • Flooding issues that require effective flood protection planning
  • Integration with existing parks, amenities, master plans or other community aspects

Rivers touch entire communities and have far reaching impacts and influence. Working with diverse owners and stakeholders is a given.

During this phase, we meet with and listen to key stakeholders carefully. We work to build consensus and find solutions that balance the needs of owners and diverse stakeholders in the community as well as regulatory agencies.

During this phase, we lean on our deep knowledge and experience to develop sound, practical and proven designs.

The design must reflect the vision of the project and be robust and accurate to ensure performance, constructability, cost-efficiency, and durability. For us engineers, this is where the magic happens. We draw on our experience, use state-of-the art design tools and hydraulic models, and innovate to seek out catered solutions unique to each project. We stay in close contact with permitting agencies along the way for a smooth approval process. Over the past decades designing river parks, we know the levers to pull, the hurdles to overcome, and the challenges to expect.

The importance of your project being built by a qualified contractor with river experience cannot be overstated.

When it’s time to get in the river and build the project, we fully engage with the contractor, owner, and river community during construction to ensure that the vision and design are realized. During this phase, we support all aspects of the process: bidding, contractor selection, construction administration, inspection, and engineering support. Persistence, expertise, experience, and collaboration are key to translating what is on paper to what is built in the real world.

Most whitewater projects require start-up and tuning to dial in the performance.

We evaluate in collaboration with the river community and owner, then work with the contractor to make modifications. Adjustable WaveShapers often reduce or eliminate the need for tuning. Long-term operations and maintenance is key for the legacy of projects. We develop operations and maintenance plans for all of our projects, working closely with and educating owners and staff for smooth transitions after construction but also long after the project is complete as a resource to help as needed.


This comprehensive guide offers details, strategy and tips that will help educate you on the steps and process involved in turning your whitewater park vision into a reality.