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Back in the day, the Animas River was for sewage, not restaurants

Yep, some ass-ends of buildings, and a nice river trail extension, but no restaurants along the Animas in this section in the heart of downtown Durango. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: One of Durango’s finest natural resources is a beautiful river that weaves its way through the middle of town. It’s the object of rafters, kayakers, anglers, bikers, joggers, walkers and park benchers. So why are there so few restaurants that take advantage of this beauty? By my count, there are exactly three that front the river. The view from the river is primarily that of parking lots and the ass-ends of commercial buildings. Can’t the city or business community promote a greater linkage between downtown and one of its finest natural resources? – John Hultin

Dear John: That reminds Action Line of going on a “cruise” of the Chicago River a few years back. All along the river and its branches just west of Lake Michigan, you find brewhouses, cafes, coffee shops and more right along the Riverwalk. It’s popular, a spectacular setting in a sometimes-gritty city.

Can’t Durango be like Chicago?

It would take some work to make the Animas River capable of handling cruise boats, but nothing that a half-cent tax wouldn’t solve. And yes, we’d need to hope for more water flow, and we’d need to dredge the bottom to take out those awful rapids – both natural and human-made – that make it impossible for a smooth river float. And we’d have to encourage eateries along the river corridor.

Let’s put that grand plan – sure to meet with universal approval – on hold and answer the question.

The main reason there are not more restaurants along the Animas is basically because of the way Durango developed over the years. For a good perspective on that, Action Line contacted Durango native and historian extraordinaire Robert McDaniel, former longtime director of the Animas Museum.

“Those 19th century pioneers/city fathers didn't view the Animas River as we do now,” McDaniel wrote in an email. “To put it bluntly, they saw the river more as a place to dump their wastes – from industrial to human – and let the waters ‘wash them away.’”

McDaniel said that even during his lifetime, both Durango and Silverton were discharging untreated sewage into the river. That occurred until wastewater treatment plants were finally developed. (As recent studies show, not everyone has gotten the word to keep human and other waste out of the river, but that’s another story.)

And interestingly, when Durango was originally platted in the 1880s, the area west of the railroad tracks near downtown was not platted. Its development was haphazard, at best.

“Clearly, we now view the river, its corridor and the Animas River Trail as arguably Durango’s most valuable resources, but it took almost 100 years to figure that out!” McDaniel said. “Perhaps new restaurants and other ‘amenities’ will eventually be located on the river as the city continues to grow and develop.”

Dear Action Line: I love that the train has mostly switched to diesel engines, for our air quality and forest fire avoidance. But the whistles are now about twice as loud – can they be “turned down”? – Grateful But Plugging My Ears A Lot

Dear Plugging: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge folks have quite the conundrum when it comes to train whistles. Yes, you can turn them down. However, you want drivers and pedestrians with their music turned up loud to hear them.

There are, in fact, legal minimum and maximum noise level requirements the train has to wiggle between, said Jeff Johnson, general manager of the D&SNG.

“We actually have to provide a certain amount of warning, by law, to cross a public crossing,” Johnson said.

The timbre of the diesel whistle is different than the steam whistle, and not what the community is accustomed to, Johnson said. (In other words, it’s just a different sound, even at the same volume.) The train did receive some complaints about diesels from locals, and took them seriously. The city came out, took some measurements, and found that the diesel whistle was within the minimum and maximum parameters.

Plugging’s question came to Action Line a couple of months back, and in that time some adjustments have been made, Johnson said. The train has heard fewer complaints over the last several months.

Also, the D&SNG is in the process of converting several of its steam engines from coal- to oil-burning. Once that’s done, you’ll hear more steam whistles again.

Tesla owner responds

Last week’s Action Line talked about how Tesla owners aren’t fond of having to put license plates on the front, which is mandatory in Colorado and 29 other states. Here’s a response from “A Satisfied Tesla Owner”:

“To comment on your rather snarky response this weekend about license plates and Teslas:

“I am a Tesla owner who certainly paid less than $100,000 for my vehicle. I do not pollute the environment with fumes from a gas powered engine. My EV is powered using a charger in my garage which generates electricity using solar panels on my roof. And my Tesla displays both front and rear license plates.”

Action Line will not apologize for last week’s response, but wants everyone to know the ground rules. Snarkiness is universal, reserved for no one in particular. It spans the gamut, from Tesla owners to ubiquitous Outback drivers to those diesel-truck dudes “rolling coal,” to everyone who has ever set foot or tire on a trail around here, from grandmothers to itty-bitty babies and puppies, even the cutest ones.

No one is immune.

Sorry, that’s just the rules.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. OK, maybe not the cutest ones.

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