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Oxbow might be out for tubers

As property owners push the issue, city considers restricting put-in spot

“Skateboarding is not a crime” was once a common slogan for skaters protesting restrictions. Animas River inner-tubers have no similar refrain, but like skaters of a generation ago, they’re facing gathering resistance from property owners and increasing calls for new rules.

A management plan under discussion by city of Durango officials would bar inner-tubers from launching from Oxbow Park in north Durango and require river floaters there to use paddles and wear life vests.

The proposed restrictions come in response to a rising chorus of complaints from riverfront property owners who say they’re tired of tubers trespassing on their property, often urinating and leaving trash along the way.

The restrictions would apply to a 1.2-mile stretch of the Animas north of the 33rd Street put-in to Oxbow Park and Preserve.

One provision under consideration states that “all river craft shall be propelled in this section by a paddle.” Another says, “downstream tube float trips shall not be permitted to launch from the (Oxbow) property.”

The provisions appear to leave tourism-driven commercial raft guides largely unaffected while targeting inner-tubers, who, in many cases, are local high school or college students.

Commercial raft guides have a sometimes-uneasy relationship with tubers, but several rafting companies also rent tubes for use on the Animas. One local rafting company owner declined to comment when reached for this story.

Cathy Metz, director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, said the rules contained in a November draft of the Oxbow Park and Preserve Management Plan are subject to change.

Two volunteer advisory boards, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board, are considering the rules. They will meet again in December before forwarding recommendations to the City Council sometime in early 2014.

“We’re trying to find the right solution for the community,” Metz said.

Tubers, along with rafters and paddle-boarders, often put in to the river north of 33rd Street. It’s a languid stretch of river, leading some bored or tired tubers to find landfall on the river’s banks before they arrive at the 33rd Street put-in.

The problem is the stretch of river from Oxbow Park to 33rd Street is entirely lined by private land.

“When you put in at Oxbow, there isn’t any legal place to get out of the river until you get to 33rd Street,” Metz said.

The new rules will be in the hands of the City Council.

“Some of the folks that have given input have legitimate complaints,” Councilor Christina Rinderle said.

Trespassing is at the heart of many conflicts between tubers and property owners. Rinderle said the city might need to consider how to better address trespassing on private property along the river.

“It really boils down to enforcement,” she said.

Police were a more familiar presence along the river last summer, tubers said.

Sabrina Canaday, 17, said she noticed more police on mountain bikes patrolling along the river. “I’ve never seen that many,” she said.

Canaday, who said she tubes nearly every day each summer, was not supportive of the proposed rules.

“That’s not Durango at all,” she said.

Nicole Goring, a local hairstylist, said families prize the slow-moving section of river because it’s safer than the rapids found to the south.

That section of the river is ‘the safest tubing in Durango,” she said.

The city acquired 43.71 acres for Oxbow Park in 2012 from the Cameron-Sterk family with assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado. Another 0.39 acres near the railroad tracks was acquired from the Sherman family.

City officials are hearing from all sides.

“We’re trying to vet all of these issues very thoroughly,” Metz said.

Residents can email public comments at rec@durangogov.org.


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