JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Springtime in Durango is marked by the waking of the bears, the opening of the Farmers Market and the eternal rift between the river users and residents along the river who complain about noise, traffic, trash and rowdiness.
A new Animas River Corridor Management Plan, which is scheduled to go before the City Council for consideration Feb. 19, aims to improve behavior with signs about river etiquette and park amenities to better accommodate the crowds but leaves unresolved what to do with the often-congested spot for launching rafts and inner tubes at 33rd Street.
Instead, the city has decided to make the river put-in at 29th Street, which has the benefit of already being part of Memorial Park, its priority, to be followed by the development of a river put-in area at Cameron-Sterk, the newly acquired 43 acres along the river north of town named after the land’s previous owners.
After finishing 29th and Cameron-Sterk, the city eventually would come back to 33rd Street, but any development would be subject to future discussion and likely wouldn’t happen for several years.
City Councilor Christina Rinderle described the strategy as “trying to get Cameron-Sterk and 29th Street to be pressure-relief valves for the intense use that 33rd Street gets.”
The 33rd Street put-in is such a popular spot that Rinderle said it’s typically the first impression “people get when they come to Durango.”
“They check into their hotel. They walk down Main. They see the ‘Next raft trip leaves right now,’” said Rinderle, explaining the brisk business rafting companies do transporting tourists by bus to the raft put-in.
She acknowledged that there has been a demand for the city to build bathrooms there.
Those who argue for the amenities say they would improve behavior because changing rooms, for example, would prevent people from undressing and changing into their swimsuits in public.
But Cathy Metz, director of parks and recreation for Durango, said no consensus could be reached about what kinds of improvements, if any, should be made to 33rd.
The river management plan was developed after marathon sessions of community dialogue between various interest groups, such as anglers, homeowners, rafters, kayakers, inner-tubers and law enforcement.
In an interview with The Durango Herald, a resident on 33rd Street, who asked for anonymity because of the tensions around the issue, said the improvements to “29th and Cameron would definitely help.”
The 33rd Street resident said neighbors mostly object to the raft companies’ buses lining up along a narrow residential street.
“It’s really an incompatible use,” she said.
Professional rafters such as Alex Mickel of Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Trail Tours Inc. recognize there’s a problem at 33rd Street.
“We currently use 29th more than (33rd) to avoid congestion and the fact that it is a much nicer environment,” Mickel said in an email. “We feel that there is no silver bullet to ease congestion at 33rd, but a combination of improvements at both locations would be helpful.”
Once the busy summer season is past, the city will begin work at 29th Street, removing the green pump house and river-intake system that has been made redundant by the Animas-La Plata Water Project that feeds Lake Nighthorse. The city also will relocate a fishing pier at Memorial Park farther upstream. Long-term plans also call for new signs, changing rooms and additional parking.
Removing the pump house will allow for the Animas River Trail extension through Memorial Park to 32nd Street this fall. The trail currently ends at the 29th Street parking lot.
A landscaping strip would separate the trail from East Third Avenue because the current sidewalk will be removed.
Metz said the city and neighbors agreed it would be safer if the trail was not directly adjacent to the road to prevent situations of car doors swinging in the path of people walking along the trail.
This fall will be a busy time for the river trail because the city also will be working on the extension of the trail northward from 32nd Street through Animas City Park, ending in the grassy area just before Bennett Street. The city also will be repaving a deteriorating section of trail from the spur at Nature’s Oasis market to the Durango Mall.
These three trail projects will cost about $3 million from the city’s fund for open space, parks and trails. The city also has $800,000 in state grants to offset costs, Metz said.
In another project for a busy autumn construction season, the city will make foundational improvements to the whitewater park near Santa Rita Park to reduce the need to continually realign the boulders that shape the rapids.
Boulders will be stacked and grouted in place underwater. The city wants to avoid concrete sticking out of the water to preserve the natural aesthetics of the river, said Scott McClain, a parks development specialist for Durango.
The $1.3 million price tag also will be funded through the city’s fund for new parks and trails.
Above-water plans for the Whitewater Park include an amphitheater so spectators can watch kayaking and other water sports, but this is more of a long-range idea.
Aaron Ball, a kayaker, is looking forward to the development.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities for tournaments, competition,” he said.