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Train’s theme park fails to impress

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s proposal for a dinosaur theme train has revived deep-seated concerns among some area residents about the train and its growing number of theme events.

Residents at a Monday night meeting about the D&SNG’s newest proposal aired complaints about pollution, noise and a cheapening of the historic railroad with commercialized events.

The neighborhood compatibility meeting was part of the planning review process required for all new uses of the railroad’s theme park, located about three miles north of Durango in the Animas Valley.

Similar to the railroad’s Polar Express and pumpkin patch trains, the dinosaur train will travel to the theme park where customers will find blow-up dinosaurs, archaeological dig activities, food vendors, a temporary tattoo parlor and an inflatable bouncy house, according to the proposal.

The event is modeled after Dinosaur Train, a cartoon series that airs on PBS Kids. This year, the train is advertised to run two times per day from June 15 through June 17.

The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners still has to approve the railroad’s proposal. The board will hear the proposal May 29. The company started advertising the event before receiving final approval because it wasn’t expecting so much opposition, said Jeff Jackson, chief operating officer of American Heritage Railways, the parent company of the D&SNG.

Much of residents’ criticism focused on the railroad’s current request to use of the theme park from May through August to give it flexibility to move the event in future years, Jackson said.

Residents argued that allowing a four-month unlimited operating period would provide no safeguard against the train expanding the event to any, or every, weekend during the summer. Many attendees wanted the railroad’s proposal to include specific days when the train would run.

Jackson said the train had no plans to expand the event beyond about nine days a season. It’s not economically feasible for the company to put on an event like the dinosaur train every weekend, he said.

According to the project proposal, the dinosaur train will use a coal-fired steam engine that will travel to the theme park and stay idle for an hour and a half as passengers do the various activities. All items on the property will be removed at the end of each weekend, the proposal said.

Though temporary, the blow-up dinosaurs and tattoo parlors will ruin the area’s natural environment and the railroad’s historic significance, residents said.

“We’ve seen it turn into a circus throughout the valley,” meeting attendee Vi McDermott said.

Several residents encouraged the railroad to consider putting the theme park-related activities at the train depot instead.

Vicki Love turned in a proposal with 82 signatures asking the county to deny the railroad’s proposal. She criticized the county’s standards that require the railroad notify residents within only 1,000 feet of the theme park about the new train event.

The train and its events affect many more people than just those whose houses surround the theme park, residents said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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