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Skating at Folsom, and who was Claire Viles?

Dear Action Line: Recent maintenance on the unnamed trail that extends south from Demon Bridge along the east side of the Animas River included culvert replacement. Is the water flowing through that culvert associated with the draining of the pond that once filled Folsom Park? Was there a tunnel bored from Folsom to the river at some point in the past? – John Schiffel

This is the culvert in question. It’s where water from Folsom Park dumps into the Animas River. (Action Line)

Dear John: Woah! There’s a culvert draining water there?

What? There was a pond in Folsom Park?

And a bored tunnel? Why was the tunnel bored? Was there nothing good on TV? (Ha, ha.) Action Line surely isn’t the first to see the pun potential here.

But seriously folks, there really was a seasonal pond at Folsom Park, which was once part of Folsom Ranch, but we don’t need to go back that far, other than to acknowledge that Folsom family members still live in the area. The park area flooded in the spring with snowmelt or when there was a lot of rain, creating a very slowly evaporating pond.

For the skinny, Action Line contacted some longtime Folsom Place residents, the Poers, who moved there in 1964.

Kris Poer said the park-to-be was then a field of weeds that the kids loved and used as a playground, making hidden trails through the growth. Then the city developed it into a park with nice grass, and the kids didn’t find it so fun anymore. And so it goes. One of the “kids,” Rick Poer, said he used to take a skim board to the pond when it would flood. A skim board, to educate you landlubbers, is a much smaller version of a surfboard, but without fins.

Others in the neighborhood ice skated on this ephemeral pond, or, as Kris Poer said, enjoyed the croaking frogs that hopped over for the occasion.

Eventually, someone decided that the pond needed to recede permanently. Maybe it was the baseball players, who don’t like using skim boards to get around the bases. They’re very persnickety that way. So a tunnel was bored. Scratch that. A tunnel was DUG – several hundred feet, underneath homes on Riverview – coming out near the Animas River. Jerry Poer recalled the folks on Riverview weren’t real happy, as the drilling shook their foundations, and the borers weren’t too happy, because the job took a long time and was a financial disaster.

Action Line tossed this question at Durango Parks and Recreation, which got partway with the answer and then heaved the question to the Street and Utility divisions to see what they knew about the culvert.

City Street Superintendent Mike Somsen said the tunnel was completed in the mid-1980s, finally and permanently draining water from Folsom Park into the river. He said the water accumulated in Folsom from a few natural springs on the east side of Florida Road near North College Drive.

There’s more, but Action Line thinks the question has been answered.

Dear Action Line: Nobody took the bait on the Viles Park question that you proposed a few weeks back. So we’re going to have to ask it ourselves: Who was Claire Viles, for whom the park was named? – Action Line

Dear Action Line: If nobody asked, don’t you think that means nobody cared?

Dear Action Line: We care. Someone else cares. Maybe they were just too shy to ask.

Dear Action Line: Or they didn’t read that far down in the column that day. So, here’s the answer. Action Line (one of our split personalities) went to the library and looked it up. Claire Viles was president of the Durango Garden Club and also the Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs in the 1950s. Her goal was to beautify the city, and she must have helped get that done because, well, the evidence is there: She had a park named after her.

If you can find the red arrow, you can spot the old pond that used to form where Folsom Park is today. If you can’t find the red arrow, then Action Line doesn’t know what to say. A guess is this photo was taken in the early part of the 20th century. (Courtesy)

Claire Viles Park is on East Park Avenue. If you’re exiting St. Columba Catholic Church, just walk straight across 18th Street and you’re in the park.

Claire Jones was born in 1892 in Iowa, grew up in South Dakota, and later came to the Telluride area with family. That’s where she met D.W. “Denny” Viles, who was in the mining industry. They were married New Year’s Eve 1920 in Telluride.

While her husband, as vice president for the Vanadium Corporation of America, looked after the uranium mill under Smelter Mountain (we won’t talk about the big mess that was made), and traveled around the world to keep an eye on faraway mines in South America and Africa, Claire stuck around and planted things and suggested where to plant things.

One of Claire’s garden club buddies was Morley Ballantine, who, if memory serves, has something to do with this newspaper. Morley suggested to City Council that the park should be named for Claire, and so it was done. The city manager at the time was Bob Rank, who later had a city park named for him. (And you thought it was named Rank Park because it smelled bad. Nope. And hey, it doesn’t smell THAT bad.)

Here’s the Claire Viles Park plaque. Action Line was really tempted to push that truck out of the way for a better picture, or at least remove the topper. (Action Line)

A dedication ceremony for Claire Viles Park was held in April 1961 during the Arbor Day festivities at Huck Finn Pond next to the fish hatchery. (Oh great, now everyone’s going to want to know who Huck Finn was.) A plaque was ordered, but it didn’t show up until September. Set in stone, it still resides at the park’s northwest corner.

A few days after the dedication, Arthur Ballantine, Morley’s husband, wrote in the Herald: “Those who heard Mrs. Viles address Cub Scouts and young gardeners Saturday at Arbor Day were impressed at the effective work she is doing in creating a love of nature among the young.”

Claire died of cancer in November 1971, age 79.

Dear Action Line: You handled that fairly well, but you went a little long. Think anybody is really still reading?

Dear Action Line: You’re a brat. And did you really think you were going to get the last word?

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Word.

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