Simplicity for the cause of community

This Thursday will be another remarkable day for Durango. In a town famous for major events such as Snowdown, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Fiesta Days, soccer tournaments and hundreds of special events that are complex and expensive, Thursday will be unique for its simplicity in both cost and concept – but will have long-lasting ramifications for thousands of people by enhancing their sense of a collaborative community.

Residents of all ages from all walks of life are invited to meet on the Animas River Trail for an event called “Durango Connect.” The goal is to form a seven-mile human chain at 10 a.m. in celebration of the linking the river trail all the way through town – a feat accomplished when the spectacular bridge behind the Durango Mall was completed last May. We owe Jack Turner an enthusiastic “thanks” for both the idea and the implementation.

There will be a formal ceremony with city, county and state officials. The tourism and business community hope that the human chain will be another effective way to showcase Durango. With a helicopter filming the human chain for television, the line of people stretched from one end of town to the other will make a great human-interest story on the network morning shows, sandwiched between coverage of elections and wars.

Organizers think it will take at least 8,000 people to complete the human chain, but with overlap it is more likely that 9,000 to 10,000 will be needed. Given Durango’s reputation of turning out for the offbeat and unusual, this will be entirely doable. In that all local schools are participating, we are halfway there.

As far as schools go, Durango Connect proffers a valuable learning experience. The event is being used as an educational field trip to engage students in history, science, math and other age-appropriate studies. More than 5,000 K-12 students, teachers and staff members will walk to the trail with their classes, and the rural schools will bus the kids to town. This outing on the Animas River Trail could be an eye-opener for a generation that many believe falls short on exercise and outdoor experiences.

A lot will be going on, but the entire concept is simple in purpose and execution.

There is nothing overly challenging about holding hands, linking arms or however one connects with neighbors to form a human chain. Every person will be of equal importance to the success of the project. Durango Connect is a rare event in which every person is a participant. There need be no spectators. Even the volunteers, city and county officials and police can join in.

Everyone is asked to get in place around 9 to 9:30 a.m. The human chain won’t last more than a few minutes past 10 a.m., but participants should plan to hold hands or link arms and wait for the film crews, both in the air and on the ground, to get their footage.

Durango Connect is not a public-relations stunt, an exhibition, a fundraising event or a sports competition. There is no registration process, no entry fee, no set of rules and no talent required. Just show up and be part of an historical moment.

The benefit of the human chain will be our community coming together for something as universally useful as the Animas River Trail. Durango Connect will be a short and welcome break from the political conflict, world strife and public bickering that dominate front-page news.

Too often communities are brought together through tragedies such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and public shootings. When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened, the entire country came together for about two weeks. If you miss that sense of community connection that transcends economic struggle and partisan political rhetoric, please join us.

Durango Connect will be a small but bright light in what too often seems to be a dark world. I’ll see you on the Animas River Trail.

Joel Jones, a former president of Fort Lewis College, has also served on the Durango School District board and as the district’s interim superintendent.