To begin with, a newsflash: It is hot. And also dry. The combination can have dire consequences, as evidenced by the Waldo Canyon Fire that has destroyed hundreds of homes on more than 18,500 acres near Colorado Springs or, closer to home, the 23 fires that emergency crews responded to on Wednesday alone in La Plata County. The heat’s effect on human comfort, while less dramatic, is still sufficient to send people looking for cooling-off options. A dip or float in the Animas River figures prominently on this list.
It is neither surprising nor upsetting, then, that the river is dotted with tubers, kayakers, swimmers, soakers, paddle-boarders, anglers, waders and rafters. Indeed, it is a fun, smart and easy way to bring core temperatures down while enjoying one of the finest natural features in Durango. But the crowds display a spectrum of conduct that, at its most unimpressive, is understandably annoying to riverfront residents as well as more tamely behaved river enthusiasts. Some of this behavior is enough to warrant the attention of law enforcement; other performances are simply irritating and inappropriate.
Taken together with the sheer numbers of people who are accessing the river by means of a limited number of entry points, the scenario is ripe for hard feelings between various interests. The solution, though, is not to make already limited access even more difficult to come by. While residents near the put-ins at 33rd or 30th streets certainly have reason to roll their eyes at some of the antics that extreme heat can prompt, limiting parking or otherwise discouraging river use is not the answer. Doing so simply spreads the problem farther while escalating sour moods already heightened with the mercury. By restricting parking near the 33rd Street put-in, for example, the city has not diminished the number of river users, it has just sent them to park south of 32nd Street, causing an increase in pedestrian activity at 32nd Street and East Third Avenue and resultant traffic congestion. Demand for river access has not lessened, but the negative externalities of idiotic behavior have extended beyond their previous concentration point.
The city is working diligently to improve the river experience — for residents, floaters, wildlife and the environment — but doing so requires as much patience as it does policy. Purchases such as the Cameron-Sterk property off Animas View Drive will do much to alleviate some of the congestion river users and property owners now experience, but providing a way to enter that site will be key.
Patroling the access points and educating people about what is or is not allowed is far preferable to creating a de facto disincentive to those seeking a dip in the cool water of the Animas. Conversely, those same seekers can do their part by not behaving badly in people’s front yards or on the public waterway that offers a welcome respite from the heat.
Enhancing river-related activities — for those on the river and those who live near it — is a work in progress for all parties. It should be approached with the spirit of cooperation, compromise and respect rather than crackdown, confrontation and adversity. For best results, let cooler heads prevail.