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River rowdies vex neighbors

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Donny Haupt, right, of Golden, and friends get ready for a tubing trip on Saturday afternoon north of the 33rd Street put-in.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Nate Riley, 22, goes inner-tubing on the Animas River about three times a week.

After he finishes his morning classes at Fort Lewis College, “it’s burning hot and I want to jump in,” Riley said. “I feel the water is really relaxing, refreshing.”

One person’s heaven can be another person’s hell as homeowners along the river have pleaded with the city to deflate the rowdy behavior of inner-tubers floating by their property.

Tim Wolf said he recently woke up at 2 a.m. when he thought he was “having a nightmare, but, no, it was just a bunch of people screaming.”

“Apparently, there were nine tubers, drunk, extremely loud. I talked with a bunch of neighbors, and even people who are pretty far from the river could hear them,” Wolf complained at a City Council meeting.

Wolf said he called the police three times in one weekend about the tubers. “It’s getting to be a pretty crazy situation out there,” he said.

Wolf also described a “property owner who has taken up skeet shooting with a shotgun to discourage trespassers. He had 30 trespassers in one day. You know, you really get tired of that. I really think something has got to be done.”

Vince Prugh lives a few blocks from the river. In an interview, Prugh said he feels for “our poor neighbor who has really been very frustrated with the rowdy behavior, beer cans, cigarette butts, kids vomiting.”

But Matt Thompson, a visitor from San Diego, thinks the tuber complaints are over-inflated.

“I guess they get a little rowdy, but nothing like you would see at Lake Havasu or the beaches of San Diego. It’s nothing that bad,” he said.

City Manager Ron Le-Blanc said he feels there are “a few people who spoil the experience for everyone else. The challenge is how do we manage the situation to make it enjoyable for families and the people who behave themselves without becoming overly regulatory.”

Cathy Metz, director of parks and recreation for the city, also thinks it’s “an over-use issue. It’s hot. People want to enjoy the river.”

Wolf thinks putting a police officer in a canoe would go a long way toward discouraging bad behavior. “I think you could eliminate 80 percent of the problem,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to cite people on the river,” Wolf said. “There’s no way to get to them.”

It’s common to see inner-tubers drinking beer even though it’s illegal to drink alcohol on the river within city limits.

Police have not put officers on the river for mostly safety reasons. They lack the training and equipment. Trying to make an arrest on the river would be “very dangerous to both officers and the public,” said Lt. Ray Shupe of Durango Police.

During the public hearings for the Animas River Recreation Management Plan, the consensus was that “officers should not be on the river,” Shupe said.

A volunteer group that patrolled the river last summer, the La Plata County Mounted Patrol, has not been able to patrol this year because of “scheduling conflicts,” Shupe said.

Police Chief Jim Spratlen said officers are working the North 33rd area “pretty hard, probably more so than any place in the city.”

“We have plans that I am not at liberty to speak of, but we’re working it,” he said.

As of July 4, police have made 266 extra patrols of river-access areas to look for violations.

They have reported 449 incidents, including 12 arrests for open containers of alcohol, two arrests for marijuana possession and single arrests for disorderly conduct, controlled-substance possession, trespassing, an outstanding warrant and violating the conditions of a bond.

Police also have issued 112 parking citations.

Prugh, the resident near the river, thinks the city and police are making progress. “It seems a lot less chaotic to me, but that’s my superficial impression from a daily dog walk through the area (of the 33rd Street put-in).”

His wife, Lisa Prugh, disapproves of stereotyping all inner-tubers as rowdy law breakers.

“Some of my best friends are tubers,” she said.


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