Posted by Melissa Garcia

DENVER (CBS4) – After years of construction, a major river revitalization project is open to the public at Confluence Park in Denver.

(Credit: CBS)

Thousands of people from Denver and beyond made a splash during the 6th Annual South Platte RiverFest near the newly renovated Shoemaker Plaza.

(Credit: CBS)

Previously, access to the river was blocked for almost three years of construction.

The event drew families like the cases who brought their kayak.

“It’s fun,” said Ayden Case.

“It’s a great way to capitalize on Denver’s resources,” said his father Lester Case as he paddled.

(Credit: CBS)

Further downstream, 3-year-old Malek and his father Sumit Sarkar waded near the slide that lets white water flow down the river.

“This really gives us an opportunity to celebrate the Denver lifestyle and Colorado culture,” said Sarkar Melissa Garcia of CBS4.

(Credit: CBS)

But the coveted stretch of river wasn’t always a good place to swim.

A 2014 lawsuit focused on what environmentalists are calling the most polluted waterway in Colorado.

One group estimated that more than 200,000 pounds of toxic chemicals spilled from industrial facilities in Colorado ended up in the Platte River in 2010.

The Greenway Foundation has been working for more than 40 years to turn the former landfills into places where people can play, among other things.

(Credit: CBS)

Ryan Aids, the foundation’s development director, said the plaza opening after decades of planning was “extremely emotional” for the group.

“The Greenway Foundation has worked since 1974 to make the river the best place to live, work and play,” said Aids. “And today is a good sign that we are moving in the right direction.”

The money raised at RiverFest is used to educate thousands of youth each year about the value of the South Platte River watershed and other Greenway Foundation programs.

LINK: The Greenway Foundation

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to [email protected]