JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

The city of Durango is under pressure from many different sides about how to handle Oxbow Park and Preserve north of Durango.

The river users of Durango look forward to access at the new Oxbow Park and Preserve. Through the diligent public process undertaken by the city of Durango it was clear that this property offers the best solution to issues involving river access and congestion, particularly at the 29th Street and 33rd Street put-ins.

As the process moves forward the reasonable concerns of the neighbors, both on Animas View Drive and those downstream, should be addressed and integrated with the need for better put-in access to the river. The preserve portion of the Oxbow (more than 36) provides excellent wildlife habitat that will be protected in perpetuity, while the park segment (6 acres) allows public access to a beach and to flat-water sections of the river.

While many take-out options exist south of Durango, few put-ins are available at the top of our river run. A boat ramp with a minimal footprint in the already disturbed area will address concerns of river-use advocates, neighbors and downstream neighborhoods. The boat launch helps by easing congestion at 33rd Street and 29th Street put-ins; protecting riparian areas with directed launch zones; providing safe, legal access to the flat water; allowing for better police patrolling of the park; affording safer launching than by hand carrying rafts to the river; providing access for people with disabilities.

We support common-sense rules to avoid overcrowding of the park during the seasonal “peak days” of demand. These could include special commercial restrictions on parking and shorter access time windows; city ranger presence at the Oxbow for peak times; separate permit requirements for commercial launches at Oxbow, such as limited trip sizes. We encourage steps by the city to monitor use and congestion so that guidelines for best management practices can be established.

Last year, the Animas River Management Plan was developed through a multi-meeting, mediated process that included land owners, local neighborhood folks, private and commercial river users, fisherman, wildlife officials, Trout Unlimited representatives, city open space and trails board members, Parks and Rec, city councilors and other interested residents. Many good recommendations to address crowding, parking, behavior, trespass, and access were agreed upon.

While we have seen some results this year with fewer issues at the 33rd Street put-in, we implore the city to take bigger steps for next year’s river season. Education for the uninformed tuber can go a long way to alleviate problems! Neighborhood “Quiet Zone” signs, clearly identified drop-off areas for watercraft to keep vehicles moving and unload times short, educational signage at access points identifying private properties and expected behavior, map and “rules of the river” rack cards at tourist and tube rental venues, along with increased park patrol and neighborhood watch involvement, all help shape the river and neighborhood experience in positive ways. With the city in the lead, residents and tourists alike can continue to enjoy the wonderful waters of the Animas while minimizing impacts to neighborhoods and landowners.

Bad behavior along the river is created by a tiny minority of users. Commercial and private boaters are good stewards of the river and environment, and we strive to minimize impacts on neighbors and fellow river users. Creating a “Nature Trail” concept for the Oxbow to the 33rd Street section can help create a culture of respect. A nice park, used by neighbors, families and river users, one that is regularly patrolled by city police and park rangers, serves to create this culture, as can be observed in the many existing parks and public spaces around Durango.

Oxbow is indeed a special, fantastic, property and we support a careful planning process. If you haven’t yet visited Oxbow Park and Preserve we encourage you to do so. Arrive by bike or trolley because there is no parking yet, and explore this amazing land that is truly a huge asset for our city.

Kent Ford is a private kayaker and rafter. In addition, this was signed by Alex Mickel (Mild to Wild Rafting), Tom Knopick (Duranglers Fly Fishing), Andy Corra (4Corners Riversports), Dan Bechtel (Mountain Waters Rafting), Andy Braner (Camp Kiva), Ty Churchwell, (angler and fishing advocate), Drew Beazley (4 Corners Whitewater), Anna Fischer (Surf the San Juans), Rory James (Southwest Whitewater) and Erik Jorgensen (Flexible Flyers Rafting.)

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