Patience urged for river plans

City holds first hearing for managing usage

More restrooms, changing rooms and trash receptacles could go a long way toward improving the behavior of rafters, inner-tubers and others enjoying themselves on the Animas River, city officials said Monday.

“We will create amenities so they will behave more legally,” said Cathy Metz, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’ll create changing rooms so they’re not changing (clothes) in the middle of the street.”

Metz unveiled a draft of the Animas River Corridor Management Plan during a public hearing at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

The proposed plan will also be discussed with citizen advisory boards this month before a revised version goes to the City Council for a vote.

City staff wrote the plan for managing recreation along 16 miles of river after soliciting input from interest groups as varied as homeowners, rafters, anglers and conservationists from a series of meetings held earlier this year.

Because of the competing interests, consensus could not be reached on all issues.

Homeowners, for instance, have lobbied for a stronger law-enforcement presence on the river, but recreational boaters and inner-tubers had objected. So a law-enforcement presence on the river didn’t make it into the plan, Metz said.

Disappointed homeowner Tim Wolf described the annoyance of listening to beer-drinking boaters and inner-tubers blasting their boom boxes as they drift by his house at a “tenth-of-a-mile-an-hour.”

Buck Skillen urged the inclusion of tougher language to discourage bad behavior on the river. People need to know there will be a “full-court press” to enforce law. The city will be “busting butt,” he said

Because the plan describes a lot of in-stream improvements and new amenities for areas where boats are put into the river, Mike Fenton thought the plan did not give enough attention to conservation efforts. He wanted to know what the city will do to protect wildlife and natural habitats.

“I’m looking for some teeth,” Fenton said. “I’m wondering where the buck stops.”

City Councilor Dick White suggested the plan could have an appendix that listed areas of disagreement and possible solutions.

He urged the inclusion of metrics to determine whether the city is successful in managing recreation along the river.

Metz urged patience.

“Everybody take a breath,” Metz said. “Don’t assume we’re going to fail before we get started.”

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