The Animas River is, quite literally, Durango’s centerpiece. Many residents and visitors spend time boating, swimming, fishing, relaxing or otherwise playing in its waters or on its shores, and a limited but fortunate number of Durangoans have homes that abut the river. The river’s appeal is broad, but access to it is limited by geography, infrastructure and property rights. Striking the balance between providing public access to a public resource and protecting the values that make the river such a treasured community feature is neither easy nor expedient, but the city of Durango has demonstrated a commitment to achieving that goal through the long term.
That vision is embodied in the Animas River Corridor Management Plan – a community-based, city-initiated process “intended to help ensure protection of the river as a valuable natural and community resource and provide management objectives for its recreational use.” In that plan, and in discussions that have followed, river access was identified as a key issue needing improvement, and the city has worked diligently to address it. Most recently and notably, that has meant the purchase of a 44-acre riverside parcel now called Oxbow Park and Preserve along Animas View Drive. This property will someday serve as a keystone in the river access complex, but it will not be immediate.
For now, though, the city has opened the park for public use – with the very large caveat that there is no public parking anywhere near the site. That is fine for those who can bike, walk, run or trolley to the park, but it does create a bit of a hassle when those options are not available. It also makes it virtually impossible to use Oxbow Park as a launching point for watercraft of any significant size. That is a bit of a frustration for those impatient for a new and less-crowded put-in alternative to 33rd Street or 29th Street, but the city did the right thing in opening the parcel before to its full development – the alternative would have been to keep it closed, as with Lake Nighthorse, until every “i” is dotted and “t” crossed. The city went with pragmatics, with some constraints, and was right to do so. It is a perfect spot to enjoy the river, and, in time, will be an excellent access point.
The Oxbow Park and Preserve is a superior addition to the city’s open space holdings and its long-term vision for managing the Animas River Corridor. It will one day help alleviate the put-in bottleneck that frustrates homeowners farther south on the river, and the space provides the immediate effect of adding an unparalleled, natural river experience that appeals to all levels of river rat. That it is not yet developed to its full potential should not diminish residents’ and visitors’ enthusiasm for the park or the city’s commitment to improving and expanding the river experience. There is much good work that has been done and much more to come.