Oxbow management plan

The city of Durango has a very good problem, namely how to ensure that its newly acquired 44-acre park and preserve accessed by Animas View Drive is developed and managed in accordance with the wishes of a large number of well-intended, engaged and active interests. Given the range those interests represent, it is not at all surprising that developing the management plan for the Oxbow Park & Preserve took quite a bit of time and even more refining and compromise. The resulting document, which the Durango City Council should adopt, does an excellent job incorporating community input, concerns and priorities into an executable plan.

Doing so has been a process complete with plenty of noise and division, but the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, its director, Cathy Metz, as well as the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board and the Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board deserve credit for establishing and navigating an inclusive process, leveraging it into an actionable plan.

The first priority of the plan is to honor the conservation easement that protects the riverside floodplain acreage for habitat, recreation and views. Within that framework, 38 acres will be managed as a preserve for wildlife habitat and ecological education opportunities.

The remaining 6 acres will be developed into a park to be developed after a design process – led by a consultant who will gather community input about not just Oxbow, but river access at 33rd and 29th streets as well as Santa Rita Park – reveals the needs and capacity of each site. This will assume for some commercial use of Oxbow, as well as plenty of private recreational use by kayakers, paddleboarders, swimmers and even tubers – despite some attempts to curtail that activity.

Objections from nearby homeowners about some tubers’ abhorrent behavior were legitimate, to be sure, but restricting the activity from the list of approved uses at Oxbow is not the answer. Instead, the plan calls for enforcement of the area from Oxbow to 33rd Street as a “Nature Paddling Area” wherein users are to leave no trace, be quiet and respect private property. They also are asked to have a paddle and personal flotation device.

That is all just fine, and Metz and the Durango Police Department are committed to enforcing these expectations – both proactively through education about what is allowed, and with a stick, should users not comply. The plan calls for consequences: “At its discretion, park staff may elect from time to time to temporarily close the entire property, or selected areas ... when it is deemed necessary for the protection of the property’s natural resource values and the general public.”

The plan also prohibits unneighborly activities such as dogs running off-leash, drug and alcohol use, smoking and overnight camping. But it does allow for wide-ranging public use, within a reasonable set of rules. It should. Oxbow Park and Preserve is a public asset and should be accordingly accessible. The city has a corresponding responsibility to enforce the rules it has established, and is committed to doing so.

There will always be rule-breakers, but the management plan should consider and accommodate the range of allowed uses – making it as broad as possible within the parameters established by Oxbow’s resource values and capacity. It has done so, and the City Council should adopt the plan.

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