Toward a year-round Chapman Hill

Bike park a splendid idea for summer use of facility

The city of Durango took a welcome step forward Monday with a Planning Commission recommendation to approve a conceptual plan to add mountain-biking trails at Chapman Hill. Turning the popular winter-sports facility into a year-round recreation complex is a great idea and should prove an excellent expansion to recreational opportunities, particularly for children.

Durango and the surrounding area already offer a tremendous variety of sports and outdoor activities, as well as the city’s well-used recreation center for indoor games and exercise. But it is hard to imagine a populace becoming too healthy, and it is impossible to present kids with too many wholesome ways to stay fit and have fun.

The conceptual plan is not a detailed or final plan. On the contrary, approving the conceptual plan would simply authorize the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to begin the real planning of the project. In specific, parks and rec could then begin the actual design process and start the all-important search for funding. When details of the design and cost are worked out, the project would have to return for further review.

The one detail built into the proposal from the start is that any bike trails or other changes to the hill cannot be allowed to adversely affect skiing. That only makes sense. The point is to expand recreational choices and add options, not to replace an existing use with another and bike trails would interfere with city workers ability to maintain the ski hill.

Clearly establishing that caveat should reassure current users. As even casual passers-by can tell, Chapman Hill’s winter offerings are well received. The ski hill is frequently busy, and the ice rink has stunned skeptics with its continuing popularity.

The ice rink turns to roller skating for the summer, but the hill itself has been limited to winter use. A mountain-biking park would expand the facility’s utility and allow for year-round recreation.

The conceptual plan envisions three downhill trails, an oval track and a practice area. All would be located above the ice rink and separated from the ski hill. Picking that site is why Planning Commission approval was required. The city’s Hillside Protection Ordinance mandates that review for any project on slopes of 30 percent or more.

While concern for the integrity and appearance of city hillsides is certainly proper, there is no doubt the city could build the bike park in such a way as to compliment and complete the Chapman complex. A design firm with just such experience is already interested in the project. Alpine Bike Parks’ has parks in Boulder, Breckenridge and Seattle to its credit.

Alpine has estimated the cost of the bike park at $340,000. That is not an insurmountable sum for the city even in this economy. The city also expects to be able to offset some of that cost with volunteers, in-kind services and grants.

But again, the bike-park project is only in the preliminary stages. Work is not expected to begin until at least 2013. There is plenty of time to sort out the details of design and cost.

Chapman Hill’s convenient, in-town location allows Durango kids easy access after school and on weekends. It gives many budding skiers the opportunity to learn and practice the sport who may not otherwise be able to do so. And its ice rink has tapped a widespread passion for hockey and skating.

There is no reason Chapman Hill could not also serve Durango’s continuing love of mountain biking. The city is right to pursue that possibility.