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Durango officials worry about costs of human chain on Animas River Trail

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

A human chain across the Animas River Trail on Sept. 26 is intended to celebrate community unity at a divisive time when the presidential campaign will be in full swing.

Durango Connect, however, is running into another problem of the times – a financially strapped local government. City officials doubt whether Durango has the staff members or money to accommodate a special event in which adults and as many as 5,000 schoolchildren are expected to hold hands across the entire length of the 7-mile trail.

But event organizer Jack Turner said there’s “no controversy” because he anticipates costs to be minimal. People would simply show up at the trail at 10 a.m. and hold hands, he said.

Turner considers Durango Connect to be a “rainbows and unicorns” event that everybody can rally behind. He is promoting it online at durangoconnect.com.

“The beauty for the city is there’s almost no cost,” Turner said. “The schools are not asking the city for any help in getting kids to the trail. The only costs might be police for school crossings.”

Turner said the city has printed some maps, but “that’s pretty negligible.”

“I can assure you there has not been one request to the city for a financial donation,” said Turner, a filmmaker and Durango native who wants to recognize the city’s achievement in making the trail contiguous for the first time in its 36-year history with a completion of a bridge behind Durango Mall.

But the timing of the event might be bad for other reasons. The loss of the La Plata Electric Association franchise fee has put a $600,000 hole in the city’s budget after voters rejected a 20-year franchise agreement for LPEA in April.

“Without the $600,000, our ability to react to little things like this is done,” said City Manager Ron LeBlanc during a City Council study session last week.

Because Durango will be hosting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August – when 20,0000 visitors are expected – city staff members won’t have time to prepare and plan for Durango Connect, LeBlanc said.

The city also expects staffing to be low in September because staff members won’t be allowed to take vacation during the bicycle competition in August.

LeBlanc said Durango’s “public safety people have a lot of questions about whether (Durango Connect) is doable.”

Because Durango Connect will be filmed for a documentary, Mayor Doug Lyon has heard that a cameraman will be riding the trail on a motorcycle, but Turner said the cameraman will be riding a bicycle.

Aside from safety concerns, Lyon said the organizers need to show how they will pay for the costs of the special event.

“There are lot of questions we’ll have to get to the bottom of before we can participate in this thing,” Lyon said.

While Turner said he has been working with the city’s recreation staff members, LeBlanc said the city currently does not have “a plan that’s implementable.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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