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City of Durango to buy Buckley Park from Durango school district

The purchase will be for $3 million; improvements are needed, but so is public input
The city of Durango is purchasing Buckley Park from Durango School District 9-R for $3 million. Thousands of people turn out to community events at the park such as Fort Lewis College’s Concert Hall @ The Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The city of Durango has agreed to buy Buckley Park, the prized downtown public green space that hosts a wide variety of community events throughout the year, from Durango School District 9-R.

The city said the $3 million purchase will preserve the park as a public space in perpetuity.

City Manager José Madrigal said the city has been negotiating with the school district for the park for several years. Finally, the two entities have developed an agreement in principle, a steppingstone toward a contract, for the city to buy the park.

He said both entities’ legal departments need to review the agreement, adding that Durango City Council and the Durango School District Board of Education will then have to formally approve it at their regular meetings.

A city news release says the 2005 half-cent sales tax is the proposed funding source for the real estate deal.

The city currently leases Buckley Park from the school district. Durango Community Events Administrator Ellen Babers said the city typically rents the park to organizations for exclusive events about 45 days out of the year.

Buckley Park is a well known gathering place for parades on Main Avenue and protests and activist demonstrations. It is where big events such as the city’s annual Party in the Park and Fort Lewis College’s Concert Hall @ The Park take place.

Street Stokes, 16, makes a behind-the-back throw while playing corn hole during Fourth of July 2023 celebrations in Buckley Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

During winter, families and children can sled down the hill that lines the park’s eastern boundary. On quiet, calm-weathered Sundays, one might see people practicing tai chi, doing yoga or tossing Frisbees. Cyclists cut across the park on a thin dirt bike trail on the east side.

The park is also a convenient place for someone to get out and stretch their legs. Babers said she will occasionally glance at cars’ license plates at the park, and visitors to Durango from all over will go to the park to simply lounge in the grass.

Bigger events draw crowds of between 1,000 and 1,500 people to the park, she said. More than 2,000 Durangoans and visitors attended the Sepp Kuss homecoming at the park this past October. Kuss is a professional cyclist who won the 2023 Vuelta a España.

Babers said the city doesn’t have a firm number of how many people visit the park on an annual basis.

The park has an electrical setup with 50 amp power to stage shows and concerts, as well as food trucks. The eastern hillside is reinforced so food trucks can park in designated areas and avoid squashing sprinkler heads, she said. The park also has Wi-Fi internet access.

Babers said the park needs improvements, but if one asks 10 different people what improvements are needed, they’d provide 10 different answers.

She said there are public restrooms at Rotary Park at 1565 East Second Ave., the Durango Welcome Center at 802 Main Ave. and the Durango Transit Center at 250 West Eighth St., but there are no public restrooms between those locations.

Food trucks and vendors sell their goods during the Buckley Park Arts & Crafts Festival in August 2023. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

“We probably need to do a little bit of improvement just to keep the grass and the trees happy. You know, even in the best of the time, there’s this diagonal line of people cutting through (the park),” she said. I don’t know that we would change that or how we would change it, but I think we’ll look at the at the how people use the park and how people want to use the park.”

Madrigal said Durango Parks and Recreation will seek public input about improvements the park should receive.

He said he hopes to complete the acquisition of Buckley Park in May.

“This is a big win for the community,” he said. “Buckley Park is highly sought after as a place to congregate, to have community. It’s a very important park in our downtown and it’s just a great thing to know that it’s going to be a park and it’ll be there for generations to come.”

In the city’s news release, Durango 9-R Board of Education member Katie Stewart said the school board is “pleased” with the arrangement.

“While many may not realize it, the park has always been under our ownership, leased to the city for communal use,” she said. “After four years of dedicated discussions, we are glad to have reached an agreement solidifying Buckley Park as a cherished community asset.”

She said it was “paramount” for the school district to preserve the park for community use as an open space, something the school district hammered home when the Durango Fire Protection District purchased the district’s former administration building adjacent to the park at 201 E. 12th St. in December 2021.

“We are confident that the city of Durango will uphold the legacy of Buckley Park as the center of our community for years to come,” Stewart said.


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