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Our View: Durango’s shady, green East 3rd Ave. median to become a rarity

Law restricts nonnative planting, watering of ‘nonfunctional turf’

Strolled down the tree-lined median on East 3rd Avenue, aka The Boulevard, in Durango lately?

It’s a great place to watch spring hatch. By the day, blades of grass are turning brighter greens under the canopy of American elms, planted in the 1880s, and the oaks that replaced them.

This shady stretch won’t be affected by recently signed Senate Bill 24-005, the state’s strongest effort to reduce water used for urban landscaping. The city will be allowed to maintain the grass and, ultimately, trees already in place.

We’ll get to keep the park-like roadway that is East 3rd Avenue.

But by January 2026, local governments are prohibited to install “nonfunctional turf” or nonnative plant species in places such as medians.

This kind of soft, cool urban strip of deep-rooted grass under mature trees will never again be recreated in Colorado along a transportation corridor.

As defined by the bill, the median is “nonfunctional” because it’s not an important use of turf “for civic, community or recreational purposes,” such as “parks, sports fields and playgrounds.”

Residents don’t normally walk down the median between traffic in each direction. Instead, they use the sidewalks.

Besides the occasional dog-walkers, you don’t see people spreading out blankets and enjoying picnics on the median. No Frisbees in flight there, footballs tossed or rounds of croquet.

One could argue that this green space – however nonfunctional – mitigates concrete heat islands around town. But our Western water supply is under increasing demand and additional pressure from climate change. Besides, state law will prohibit it.

The Boulevard is already a special section of Durango and it will become even more precious as water-conserving efforts align with the water Colorado actually has.

(This could only add to property values along The Boulevard. On fliers advertising homes for sale, background images of the median may become de rigueur.)

Our own Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Sen. Cleave Simpson sponsored the bill to prevent pockets of unnecessary thirsty landscaping around the state. Compared with Front Range municipalities, the city of Durango is in relatively good shape.

According to an email to The Durango Herald from Sustainability Manager Marty Pool, the city maintains “very little turf” in the nonfunctional category. Pool included the percentage of total park irrigation for sites including:

* East 3rd Avenue, all sections (3%)

* The turf around the northwest corner of the U.S. Highways 160 and 550 intersection (1%)

* The small amount of turf around the East 2nd Avenue parking spaces (less than 0.3%)

* The turf around the 12th Street and Camino del Rio crossing, east side of Camino (less than 0.3%)

Pool said he’s working with the Parks Department to analyze water consumption across maintained sites to identify opportunities for further water conservation and note excessive uses.

For those sites with patches of long ago planted nonnative grass here or there, unused except for the relief to dogs, say goodbye.

This is a good thing.

The bill doesn’t address trees. But we imagine the future conscious response will be native trees and drought-resistant Western shrubs, watered by drip lines, surrounded by patches of local grasses.

But that shady greenscape that is The Boulevard will become something of a relic.