Whinnery Construction, a Colorado-based contractor, is employing Volvo excavators to ensure safe passageway for whitewater enthusiasts in the Animas River.
Durango, Colorado is nestled in the Animas River Valley, surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. The region’s evergreen forests and babbling creeks attract a steady flow of holidaymakers throughout the year. With tourism the leading driver of Durango’s economy, maintenance on local attractions, such as the Durango Whitewater Park, is necessary.
The Animas River runs through the bustling city of Durango and is one of the top whitewater stretches in the US, with flow rates ranging from 200- 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The river is also recognised by Colorado wildlife officials as a Gold Medal Water.
Enhancements were made in 2014, however, the features created were powerful and difficult for the average river users to enjoy during periods of high flow. As a result, the Durango Whitewater Park is undergoing a $60,000 renovation to widen and lower the existing structures. These improvements will provide a more pronounced, easier passage for recreationists and improve the fish habitat.
Whinnery Construction was given the task of turning two of the four whitewater structures in the permanent whitewater park, including trimming the rocks that are firmly secured in concrete.
Established in 1990, Whinnery Construction started out as a construction company, focusing primarily on local utility work in Lake City, Colorado; later expanding to cater for a number of services which included river restoration. Stan Whinnery is the owner of the family-owned business. Although it may be small, living in Hinsdale County has numerous opportunities. “There are a lot of abandoned gold and silver mines, particularly in the San Juan region,” Whinnery explains. “I looked to my family’s mining and logging background to make a start in reclamation work.”
Over the last two decades, Whinnery Construction has performed river restoration projects across Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois, New Mexico and Texas – many completed in conjunction with local engineering firm S2O Design.
Scott Shipley, three-time Olympic kayaker and founder of S2O Design speaks fondly of the collaboration: “Whinnery excelled at projects that require precise cutting of natural rock to ensure each piece can withstand fluctuating water currents.”
Combining Whinnery Construction’s expertise in rock cutting with S2O Design’s knowledge of rock placement, the two have set sail to tame and restore the Animas River for the development of the Durango Whitewater Park project.
“River restoration is a seasonal business,” Whinnery explains. “The summer is the optimal time because the water is low, but it also happens to be the peak of whitewater rafting and kayaking expeditions. The Spring provides a very small window of opportunity for us; when the weather warms and the water starts to flow.”
“We needed to modify the previously placed rocks to change the character of the waves at high flow,” explains Nathan Werner, project engineer for S2O. “The existing rock structures in the park are concreted together, so there was no easy way to make even a minor adjustment.”
Because every piece of added or removed rock has an effect on the flow, Whinnery had to be innovative. “We couldn’t use a breaker attachment to crack and reset the rocks because the expansion grout creates small fractures within the rock that would shatter by the force of the breaker,” says Whinnery. The solution, as explained by Werner, was thanks to Stan Whinnery, who came up with the idea to use a rocksaw to score the rock, followed by a hydraulic hammer.
Turning to Volvo Construction Equipment to meet the demands of the job due to the productive and versatile machines. The equipment spans the size classes, including L250H wheel loaders, EC160, EC250 and the latest EC300E excavators, and A30C and A35G articulated haulers.
A MEND IN THE RIVER
The larger excavators are specified with the proportional two- pump flow, offering greater control for precise and fast operations.
“We use a thumb attachment to stack the rocks,” says Whinnery. “When you have a four tonne rock on the end of the boom, with a crew member making sure it’s sited correctly, you need a powerful, stable machine. Or, if you are using a rocksaw making a six millimetre (¼ in.) wide cut through one meter (36 in.) thick rock, the precision has to be perfect.”
Precision isn’t just down to the cut, but also involves the selection of rocks.
“On an average river restoration project, we will use three ft. diameter rocks, weighing around 2.5 tonnes,” says Whinnery. “When you are dealing with 12,000 individual rocks for a project, it becomes a logistical issue. We use Volvo articulated haulers to transport the rocks from the source sites to the job site. We try to stay in the 30 tonne truck range because they get around easier on softer ground but can haul the heavy loads.”
“Pound for pound, Volvo CE is one of the best brands of excavator manufacturers out there,” says Whinnery. “Much of the terrain we are on is demanding on an excavator. We have some unbelievably steep river banks, up to 72% grade, and the Volvo climbed right up.”
When whitewater enthusiasts paddle through the Durango Whitewater Park later this year, they will notice that the passageway is structurally sound, high-performing and aesthetically pleasing – not to mention safe for both water-sport enthusiasts and fish.