JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Durango Connect might not have connected through the entire seven miles of the Animas River Trail, but no one seemed to mind the gaps.
Spirits were high Thursday morning as an estimated 9,000 linked hands, waved their arms to the sky and kicked their legs like a chorus line to celebrate the trail becoming contiguous from north to south this year.
“Forty years ago in Durango, nobody could have conceived of this kind of thing,” Mayor Doug Lyon said. “It was an audacious dream, having a trail going the whole length of Durango along the Animas River.”
Organizer Jack Turner came up with the idea for linking hands along the river trail. Wearing a loaded activity vest, he acted in equals parts like a hammy Hollywood director and a fussy wedding planner in trying to get people to line up, spread out and wave to cameras in the helicopter flying overhead. The aerial video of the event was supposed to be posted at YouTube.com on Thursday night.
There were areas where people were clumped together, standing shoulder to shoulder, but Turner acknowledged there were a few gaps, too, in the human chain.
“We’ll know looking at the tape, but I’m fairly certain it did not actually connect the whole way,” Turner said. “We certainly had enough people. The fact we were all standing on the trail makes us connected.”
Eyewitness reports noted that the human chain did not extend all the way to its southern end behind Home Depot, petering out a half-mile away behind Escalante Middle School. In the middle of town, the chain reportedly had some missing links underneath the Main Avenue bridge, near the Durango Discovery Museum and by the skate park.
Durango Connect had the support of 6,000 schoolchildren who wore colored T-shirts so they would be easy to find in case they got lost. Schools organized lesson plans around the event to make the most of the experience. Students, for example, were asked to calculate the distance of pavement one class could cover and learn the history of the riverfront.
But Superintendent Dan Snowberger also said he wanted the children to realize they were part of the community at large.
As an indication of how seriously students took Durango Connect, a middle school girl yelled at a laggard who was not linking up, “You’re the reason we’re going to fail!”
A cast of Durango characters came to celebrate the community’s diversity as some wore Viking helmets and neon-colored wigs.
An exuberant Candye Sauer came decked out in a rainbow feather boa, with matching bandana for her dog Chili Pepper. Sauer took on the role of ringleader, trying with mixed results to spice up the proceedings while waiting for the helicopter flyby. Her attempts to coordinate an impromptu can-can dance were unsuccessful, but she managed to trigger a rousing rendition of the folk song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” inspired by the train that had just chugged past.
“I didn’t realize I knew all the words,” she said breathlessly.
“I haven’t heard that song in 40 years,” said somebody a few links away.
Sauer felt compelled to turn out because of her long history in Durango.
“I’ve seen the trail develop from the beginning,” she said.
Basin Printing & Imaging was one of many businesses to close temporarily to allow its employees to take part.
“It’s fun to come together, even for a moment,” said Basin employee Selena Trujillo.
There was a family reunion for the Carlenos, whose family donated the land for the trail behind the Durango Mall, enabling the city to fill in the last missing link in the trail this spring. Ten family members came from as far as Denver and Texas for the event. After the event, they posed for a group shot with Mayor Lyon.
Uta Carleno, who was married to Richard Carleno, who died on Oct. 25 last year, recalled that the mall property formerly was a ranch.
The Carlenos wanted to donate the land for the trail because they “felt it was a wonderful use.”
“I know a lot of people had to make deals (for trail land that) the city paid for, but this stretch (from the Durango Mall to the high bridge) was donated,” Uta Carleno said.
Long-term plans for the trail have it extending southeast to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Grandview and north to the Iron Horse Inn.
Terri Morfesy, a home health nurse who likes to walk the trail while listening to audio books during her lunch breaks, said the event made her feel part of history.
The day was commemorated with a steel sculpture of the Durango Connect logo, which looks like the infinity symbol with loops of river water appearing to clasp hands. Dave Clausson created the sculpture from a donated design by Clint Reid of J3 Media. It is bolted to the railing on the overlook section of the river trail behind the mall.
As soon as Durango Connect came undone, the roller skaters and jogging mothers pushing baby strollers reclaimed the pavement.
firstname.lastname@example.org Luke Groskopf and Chase Olivarius-McAllister contributed to this story.
SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald