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An upstream battle

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

Some residents worry development of Oxbow as a city park will bring rowdy river users to the neighborhood. People gather at the beach there Sunday.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “You can’t step in the same river twice.” But some things about the Animas River never seem to change.

Resentment about obnoxious drunks, trash and public nudity runs deep as property owners along the river seem forever locked in battle against rowdy river users.

Property owners now are directing their animus against proposals to add a new river access at the recently acquired 44-acre Oxbow Park and Preserve just north of town.

Proposals for a management plan for the park will be the subject of a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. July 25 at Durango Community Recreation Center.

While most of the park would be set aside for wildlife conservation, a few acres also could be developed for a parking lot, restrooms and boat-launch area, which would be limited to nonmotorized boats.

The new boat ramp is supposed to disperse traffic over a longer stretch of river, but nearby homeowner Susan Ulery is not seeing it.

“If the city builds a boat launch at Oxbow, it will not help relieve the congestion, partying, traffic and disruptions of peace that the 32nd and 29th street residents currently suffer (because of river access areas),” Ulery said in an email. “Why? Because what goes in upstream moves downstream ... and every raft or tuber who puts in at Oxbow would take out at those downstream locations. I’m not a river traffic engineer, but the common-sense logic of this is sound.”

The North Animas River Group, comprised of city and county residents who live around the park, also have gone over the city’s head, complaining to a funder of the project, Great Outdoors Colorado, which uses proceeds from the state lottery for the preservation of natural lands.

For Oxbow, Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO, contributed a $400,000 grant toward the $1.2 million purchase of the property formerly known as Cameron-Sterk. The city contributed the balance of the purchase price from its fund for open space and trails. The city also would like to extend the Animas River Trail through the park, which also will be annexed into Durango.

In a letter to GOCO, Jane Gerstenberger asked for alterations in plans for the park to emphasize “passive recreation” and complained of a lack of collaboration and openness on the part of the city with affected property owners.

In response, GOCO Executive Director Lise Aangeenbrug wrote that the city had followed the procedures of the grant application and had been transparent, noting that it was “clear that it intended to reserve (space) for parking and reserve the right for a future trail corridor. Our understanding from the time of the application (was) that up to 3 acres would be used to build a parking lot and boat ramp and additional acreage” (would be used) for an extension of the Animas River Trail.

But Aangeenbrug also checked with the city to make sure there has been sufficient opportunities for public input.

City officials seem exasperated at the notion they have not involved the public, noting the extensive public hearings in 2011 and ’12 to develop the Animas River Corridor Management Plan that recently was adopted by City Council.

“The city has taken every conceivable step to include and involve the community in the Animas River Master Plan,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “We acquired Oxbow Park and Preserve after vetting it in public and seeking input from various groups and advisory boards. I am sorry that certain individuals feel that we have excluded them.

“The public hearing on July 25 will be yet another opportunity to be heard,” LeBlanc said. “I would point out that river users are a diverse group, and many of them are vocal about expressing their opinions. The public hearing will give staff the opportunity to listen to ideas suggested by the public. I suspect there will be sentiment among certain river users that a boat ramp would be a welcome feature at Oxbow Park.”

Alex Mickel, president of Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours, complimented the city for going the extra mile to involve the public. Mickel said that as a potential third river put-in, Oxbow would “take pressure and congestion off 32nd and 29th put-ins.”

Because this section of river near Oxbow is “flat water” more suited for stand-up paddle-boarding rather than whitewater river rafting, Mickel did not think the impact would be great.

“I don’t believe it will see the level of use as the other (river) put-ins,” he said.

jhaug@durangoherald.com


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