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Big plans at Durango Mesa Park

The high school fall sports season is drawing to a close, and this has been a banner year for many La Plata County teams across a range of athletic events – I have certainly had my share of adrenaline at more than a few soccer games!

And we had a particularly significant opportunity late in October when the Colorado High School Cycling League’s state championships came to Durango. Our local cycling teams – Durango and Animas high schools – took the top two spots in their division, which was a wonderful way to culminate a very exciting weekend.

What was also significant about the weekend was the venue. The state championships were held on what will someday be Durango Mesa Park – but what many of us still call Ewing Mesa – and gave folks from across the state an opportunity to enjoy an iconic location in our community. And this is just the beginning of a bright future of events, activities and amenities planned for that location.

Thanks to the generosity of the Katz family, Ewing Mesa is destined to host a range of community offerings hosted by La Plata County and the city of Durango, and we have both been through extensive planning processes to outline the vision. In 2017, the county developed a Multi-Event Center Master Plan, using funds from the Colorado Lottery distributed to local governments for limited use: open space, park and recreation plans and improvements. This planning process was extensive and inclusive and produced a plan that will eventually relocate and expand the La Plata County Fairgrounds – a much-needed move given that we have long-since outgrown the existing facility on North Main in Durango.

The project goals are ultimately to provide educational, recreational, cultural and civic opportunities for people of all ages; to provide support for agricultural interests; to attract, enhance and retain businesses, and to broaden what we offer for cultural, tourism and environmental attractions.

Through a series of stakeholder meetings with 19 groups, a community survey with more than 500 responses, and three public open houses with more than 200 in total attendance, our master plan reflects thoughtful community involvement and input.

Under the master plan, the fairgrounds will offer increased stall, arena, barn and parking along with space for motor sports, camping and access to equestrian trails. Separately, but integrated with the overarching vision for Durango Mesa Park, the city of Durango developed a master plan that focuses more on traditional parks and recreation uses, including ball fields and other amenities. Taken together, these two plans will someday produce an unparalleled community facility that will have local and regional draw.

We are very excited about the opportunity, but recognize that it is a large-scale investment that will take time to bring about. To kick-start the effort and begin to move it from the planning stage into implementation – albeit slowly – for 2019, the Board of County Commissioners has budgeted $3 million of those same Conservation Trust Fund dollars that can only be used for projects such as these. We envision this as seed money to leverage for other outside funds to help get the Multi-Event Center off the ground. It is an important first step in bringing the vision for Durango Mesa Park to reality.

There will certainly be many steps to come. All four phases of the Multi-Event Center Master Plan are estimated to cost approximately $80 million, with more than half of that in the first phase of site improvements: roadways, water, sanitation, etc. By putting $3 million into La Plata County’s 2019 budget, we hope to give some momentum to what will be a years-long effort involving investment from many sources.

This is an exciting opportunity for La Plata County and the entire region and we are proud to be making moves to bring the vision a little closer to reality.

Gwen Lachelt is chair of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners. Reach her at (970)382-6219.