Building a Hydro Park

Redesigning the site of the 7-MW Badger hydro facility offered Kaukauna Utilities the opportunity to do something unique. The utility converted the site into a Hydro Park that attracts thousands of visitors for music, yoga, bicycle rides and more.

By Michael Pedersen

What do you do with the site of an old hydroelectric powerhouse that is sitting in the middle of a small but vibrant community? If you are Kaukauna Utilities, you turn it into an exciting new downtown park that offers a venue for music concerts, public meetings, recreation and much more. And to tie the park with the history of the site, you name it the Hydro Park.

This plan for the Hydro Park shows the new Badger powerhouse and other features, including a future museum site. The photo at right shows the completed park with the old Kaplan turbine.
This plan for the Hydro Park shows the new Badger powerhouse and other features, including a future museum site.


A new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license for the 9.4-MW Badger-Rapid Croche project, received in June 2011, included the provision that Kaukauna Utilities convert an old facility into a park. The Badger-Rapid Croche project comprises two developments at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kaukauna and Rapide Croche dams.

The license authorized the city of Kaukauna to decommission the old Badger powerhouse and construct a new one, increasing the project’s installed capacity. Kaukauna Utilities chose this option for several reasons:

  • Retiring the Badger plants would mean the need to purchase replacement power, which likely would be from fossil fuels or another non-renewable resource
  • Replacement power differential cost would be more than $2 million and subject to rising fuel costs, meaning a significant rate increase compared with other alternatives
  • Repairing the existing Badger plants would require reconstructing the power canal and provide only a 20-year life expectancy
  • Repairing would result in 25% less hydropower generation and the need to construct a new plant after 20 years

Kaukauna Utilities is a community owned and operated electric and water utility serving 15,000 customers. The company was founded in 1912 and owns and operates seven power generating facilities, including the Badger powerhouse. In total, 25% of the power the utility generates comes from hydroelectric plants. In fact, the company estimates that its use of hydroelectric power has saved its customers nearly $60 million over the past 10 years.

The company determined that the total cost of this recommendation would be $27 million. Of this, about $10.5 million would go toward repairing and upgrading the 130-year-old power canal. This option would only have a net 0.5% increased impact on projected rates by 2060, compared with 4.5% for repairing and then building a new plant in 20 years or 15% for retiring the plant and not building new hydro.

The old Badger plant was completed in 1908 and contained two 1-MW turbine-generator units. The new Badger plant was completed in 1928 and contained two 1.8-MW turbine-generator units. The city of Kaukauna acquired the facility in 1974. The Badger hydro project included a 2,100-foot-long power canal with headworks and the two powerhouses. The headworks were 137 feet long and included six tainter gates each 20 feet wide by 15 feet high. Water levels for both powerhouses were maintained by the adjacent Corps dam.

In May 2014, Kaukauna Utilities completed the overhaul of the Badger plant, combining the two old powerhouses into a single two-unit plant with a capacity of 7 MW. During the upgrade, both original plants were decommissioned and the new Badger powerhouse was demolished and replaced with the new structure. The old Badger site was then available to repurpose for alternate use: the Hydro Park.

The photo shows the completed park with the old Kaplan turbine.
The photo shows the completed park with the old Kaplan turbine.

Developing the park

Kaukauna Utilities worked with local engineering, planning and design firm GRAEF to create the park. The 5-acre park is located in downtown Kaukauna, Wis., on the Fox River, and features an old canal.

During development of the Hydro Park, GRAEF focused on maintaining the old canal on the river and ensuring park visitors could see how it used to function. “The goal was to make this a recreational and activity space and an amenity and feature that enhances downtown Kaukauna,” said Patrick Skalecki, project manager and principal for the GRAEF team.

The GRAEF team spoke with residents, city officials and Kaukauna Utilities employees to develop a plan to use the space.

The park contains information kiosks where visitors can learn about the city’s history of hydropower and the river. Two large plazas feature river stones that mimic the shape of the river, and granite planks provide information about the lock system and hydropower. The park also features a three-blade Kaplan turbine that had been rusting in the area in the 1970s.

In addition, the park has an outdoor performance area, gathering spaces, and trail connections. Events held at the park include the Live from Hydro Park series of free summer concerts, free yoga classes, benefit bicycle rides.

The park cost nearly $2 million and opened in October 2015. Since then it has hosted many gatherings and become a vibrant part of the landscape in downtown Kaukauna.

Mike Pedersen is manager, generation and operations with Kaukauna Utilities.

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