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Durango youth lend helping hands to erosion project

Nine sets of stone stairs created and 90 cubic feet of rock reshaped at popular climbing spot
Members of the city of Durango’s seasonal open space and trails crew unload rocks from a gas-powered wheelbarrow in Dalla Mountain Park in a recent project with Southwest Conservation Corps to reshape climbing areas at the park to address soil erosion and safety concerns. (Courtesy of Amy Schwarzback, Durango natural resources manager)

The city of Durango partnered with Southwest Conservation Corps’ youth program to move 90 cubic feet of crushed and molded heavy rocks at Dalla Mountain Park.

The seven-week job, which was completed last month, addressed soil erosion issues and made the popular climbing area safer for outdoor enthusiasts.

Jacob Mandell, youth programs coordinator for Southwest Conservation Corps, said 29 local youths — mainly high schoolers — dedicated a total of 1,460 hours to work on the project. Aside from moving and reshaping heavy rocks weighing hundreds of pounds, the youth group helped create nine sets of stone stairs and 90 square feet of rockwall at the park.

Amy Schwarzbach, city of Durango’s natural resources manager, said the project has been on her radar for years. She first contacted the city about necessary rock work at Dalla Mountain Park years back when she was the executive director of La Plata Open Space Conservancy, which holds a conservation easement for the park.

She said unmanaged climbing was causing erosion at the park, known for offering great climbing experiences and having the greatest concentration of climbing opportunities in any city park in the state of Colorado. Schwarzbach joined the city in 2018 when local climbers were organizing advocacy efforts, shortly before they formed the Durango Climbers Coalition.

The coalition organized an erosion control project with Access Fund at Euro Boulder, one of Dalla’s biggest boulders known for its long climb that traverses most of the boulder, she said.

To continue work at Dalla Mountain Park, DCC and the city partnered with the US Bureau of Land Management, which was planning a project to protect cultural resources at the property boundary of Dalla and Animas City Mountain — the latter of which is on BLM land. The city secured a $48,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to pay for hiring Southwest Conservation Corps.

The BLM contributed $27,000 to the project, and the city also paid $9,000 from its 2005 sales tax fund, Schwarzbach said at a City Council meeting last week.

“Our grant application had a great story to tell of this need and great collaboration that we had spent years forming – while our climbing areas were experiencing a spike in use due to COVID’s influence on outdoor recreation,” she said.

Old Gambel oaks with exposed roots at Dalla Mountain Park were assisted by crews with the city of Durango and Southwest Conservation Corps, who were on the mountain to move stones and reshape areas to address soil erosion issues and make the park, a popular place for rock climbing, safer for outdoor recreation. (Courtesy of Amy Schwarzback, Durango natural resources manager)

The city’s seasonal open space and trails crew moved four miniature dump trucks worth of large rock, gravel and dirt that SCC crews would use as materials to stabilize areas, protect gambel oak tree roots and reshape parts of the park to make it safer, she said.

“Natural resource concerns of leaving the erosion to continue include not only risking the die off of the trees in that area, but the sedimentation of Junction Creek which is downhill of the park and where topsoil from Dalla flows in rain and snowmelt events,” she said.

Mandell with SCC said the project was about addressing the environmental impacts of erosion.

Crews also protected old and grown Gambel oak with roots exposed by erosion, by reshaping the soil adjacent to them.

Crews also created new climbing structures that improve safety, Mandell said. Namely, the crews made new climbing platforms where climbers can place their climbing pads on so they can land safely when they fall.

Areas below rock walls were flattened to make falls safer for climbers at Dalla Mountain Park, which Durango Natural Resources Manager Amy Schwarzbach said she’s had in her sights to address erosion issues since before she took a job with the city. (Courtesy of Amy Schwarzbach, city of Durango natural resources manager)

Mandell said the Dalla Mountain Park project was particularly cool because it allowed youth crews to put their skills to the test after recently completing training in the spring.

High school crews used tools to shape the rocks, crush them and move them into place. He said the rocks were organized with care to ensure they were sturdy and stable.

Schwarzbach said the city’s partnership with SCC on various projects often leads to kids contacting the city about job opportunities.

“It is awesome to help inspire the next generation and have them calling and wanting to be part of the city team,” she said.


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