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$1M appropriation gives legs to Durango pickleball project, reduces SMART 160 Trail funding

Connection to Three Springs delayed because of ongoing negotiations with landowner
Cortez Parks and Recreation Director Dean Palmquist, left, plays pickleball along with board member Bob Archibeque in Centennial Park in 2019. The city of Durango appropriated $1 million from a trail connection project to build pickleball courts at Schneider Park next year, with construction starting this year. (Durango Herald file)

Durango area pickleball players packed into Durango City Hall on Tuesday to show support for a $1 million budget appropriation to start construction on three pickleball courts at Schneider Park this year.

Durango City Council unanimously approved the appropriation, which takes $1 million from the SMART 160 Trail project because that project won’t be completed this year as originally planned. That project is a planned connection to Three Springs.

Budget appropriations for a number of other projects, including new tow ropes at Chapman Hill, were approved at Tuesday’s meeting.

La Plata County resident and Southwest Colorado Pickleball Association Vice President Stephen Crandall spoke on behalf of the area pickleball community ahead of the discussion and vote on appropriations, advocating for funding the Schneider Park project.

Crandall said life in Durango is closely tied to outdoor recreation, whether it’s hiking, biking, rock climbing or other activities.

Despite the city’s outdoorsy nature, however, public outdoor pickleball courts are nowhere to be found. Completing the Schneider Park pickleball project would “remedy that inequity.”

“We believe the project will integrate Schneider Park into the community and downtown, making it a safer and busier park,” Crandall said. “It will be wonderful to see this lovely park, which is immediately adjacent to the busy river trail, to be more fully utilized by locals and out of town guests.”

Crandall said having a blend of trail users and pickleball players at Schneider Park would change its character for the better, and it’d make the open space more attractive to residents and visitors.

The pickleball trend may be “a bit of an eye roll,” but the game of pickleball is fun, healthy and builds community, he said.

Cortez, Farmington and Pagosa Springs have all jumped on the trend and built public courts, hosting tournaments to help stimulate their economies.

Designs for the Schneider Park pickleball complex were about 30% complete in December. At that time, the city’s Parks and Recreation staffmembers and contractor DHM Design were considering the potential noise impacts of pickleball, which is well known to be a noisy game.

Scott McClain, left, Durango Parks and Recreation interim director, and Ture Nycum, former director of Parks and Recreation, stand at the western end of the SMART 160 Trail project in Three Springs last year describing how the trail will connect to the Animas River Trail. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Sound walls to create a buffer for residents and businesses could cost about $35,000, depending on the design used.

Durango Parks and Recreation is considering a standard restroom model to be used in the city’s parks, including Schneider Park where bathrooms haven’t been well maintained, Ture Nycum, the former Parks and Recreation Director, said last year.

Other elements of the Schneider Park project include a possible stormwater quality system with a linear design and an aesthetic appeal, according to DHM Design.

Nycum said the original timeline for completion of the pickleball courts was July 2023, but he anticipated delays because he didn’t know how easy it would be to find a contractor to carry out the project.

Interim Parks and Recreation director Scott McClain said construction on the pickleball courts could start during the fall, if not a sooner, and are likely to be completed in Spring 2024. City staff are meeting with a contractor next week, and more details about the construction timeline should be available after the meeting.

$3 million still budgeted for SMART 160 Trail

Pickleball players, vocal in their efforts to elevate public outdoor courts as a priority, may be relieved to see the Schneider Park project receive more funding, but Three Springs residents who have waited years for the trail to be completed will have to wait a little longer.

McClain said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that city staff recommended appropriating $1 million from the SMART 160 Trail project to the pickleball project because trail work was pending negotiations with a landowner whose property the trail would cross.

On Wednesday, he said the landowner is supportive of the SMART 160 Trail but wants to ensure the trail won’t impact development plans for his property.

The SMART 160 Trail had $4.2 million budgeted prior to Tuesday’s appropriation. The project now has $3.2 million budgeted, McClain said.

Bridges across U.S. Highway 160 east of downtown Durango mark one end of the Smart 160 Trail. The city of Durango hopes to connect the trail to the southern end of the Animas River Trail. (Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald file)

Councilor Gilda Yazzie said she is concerned about the trail project, adding that the city needs to “start considering Three Springs as part of our financial outlook.”

José Madrigal, city manager, said the city can’t finish the trail project this year, and there is still work to be done with the landowner — whose property is in the SMART 160 Trail’s path.

“We are anticipating to pick this up once we have that part established. But since this project is not going to be able to be completed this year we’re moving (the funds) over for the Schneider Park (project) so that can be completed,” he said.

At the Aug. 1 City Council meeting, Three Springs resident Rick Cobb said the $1 million budget appropriation from the SMART 160 Trail project to pickle ball courts at Schneider Park makes sense because of ongoing negotiations with C&J Gravel. However, he stressed progress on the trail connection should not be delayed past next year.

“I want to make sure the funding just moves forward. Not ‘poof,’ disappears,” he said. “Quite frankly, the only thing better than playing pickleball at Schneider Park is when I’m going to be able to ride from Three Springs on the SMART 160 to go play pickleball.”

Three Springs residents have long clamored for a bike and pedestrian trail connecting them to the Animas River Trail because it would make it easier and safer to commute back and forth.