This week, the Friends of the Animas Valley convened at city hall to ask a question about River Trails Ranch that’s been on many minds lately. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Public blasts River Trails Ranch

Just 24 hours after a meeting in which the developers of River Trails Ranch defended their plan as an alternative to suburban sprawl, members of the public took the podium and blasted the proposal.

Last Tuesday, the Durango Planning Commission took public comment on the proposed development of 800 homes on 245 acres immediately north of Durango. Developers Bob Wolff and John Wessman have filed an application with the City of Durango for River Trails Ranch, a New Urbanism-style development that would include a variety of housing types. They are also seeking annexation approval, which would allow River Trails Ranch to enter Durango City Limits and city sewer and water service.

The prior evening, Wolff and Wessman’s consultant Peter Calthorpe presented the project, stressing that the new urbanism development style would represent healthy growth for Durango. During Tuesday night’s public forum, a handful of comments concurred with this assessment. In particular, some citizens argued for a development which would house everyday Durangoans rather than the 67 trophy homes for which Wolff and Wessman have already received approval from La Plata County.

However, the vast majority of comments from a crowd that overflowed council chambers into the lobby were opposed to the large project.

Sylvia Frazier, who owns a large ranch north of River Trails Ranch and Morningstar Arabians, vented her frustration. Last fall, Frazier sold a piece of property to Morningstar’s new owner Martha Higgins, a portion of which was eventually transferred to Wessman Holdings. It is through that piece of property that River Trails Ranch would be annexed. Frazier had no idea she was inadvertently enabling the annexation. “I’m very upset about (the transaction),” she said. “I feel this development is getting off to a bad start.”

Earlier this week, the Friends of the Animas Valley made a formal request to City Manager Bob Ledger to compile any correspondence between city employees and Martha Higgins, Wolff, Wessman, their attorney Denny Ehlers or Russ Smith, the realtor who brokered the exchange.

Tuesday’s comments went on to address a laundry list of concerns about River Trails Ranch, including whether it would actually be affordable, impacts on elk habitat, increased traffic, building in the flood plain, impacts on tourism and others.

Judy Fairchild commented, “Unlike the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’ this is a field of nightmares. If you build it, they will not come.”

She added, “Sometimes it seems our councilors and commissioners care more about the people who might be moving here than the people who are already here.”

Saying she was speaking for “two groups who have no voice,” Karen Carver said, “We have to stand up for wildlife and the other residents of La Plata County and say ‘no’ to the annexation of River Trails Ranch.”

Following numerous other comments opposing the development, Harry Boyd of the Friends of the Animas Valley said, “Let me use all of my political consulting knowledge: I think the people are against this.” His comment provoked widespread laughter.

Last week, City Planner Greg Hoch said that the city will proceed with its review of River Trails Ranch in a very deliberate manner. “We’re going to spread the review of this project out,” Hoch said. “We don’t want to give anyone the impression that we’re trying to rush this through.”

DMR ends season on mixed note

As the lifts came to rest and the final skier left the slopes last Sunday, Durango Mountain Resort reflected on a ski season that was not the greatest, but considerably better than last year.

“Our ski numbers are about 10 percent ahead of last year,” said Matt Skinner, communications director.

Skinner added, however, that 10 percent of last year’s weak season is still below average.

“We were below our five-year average,” he said. “This is an improvement back toward that average, but we’re still under our five-year average.”

However, DMR is considering the 2002-2003 ski season relatively successful, considering a low snow year, slow economy and war in Iraq.

“We had a below average snow year and with the slow economy and the war, the numbers came in below average,” Skinner said. “But with those contributing factors we’re not disappointed.”

Meanwhile the resort is transitioning into what it hopes will be a busy summer season. In addition to the NORBA finals, the Adventure Xstream race is planned for the resort, as well as the Celtic Fest, Music in the Mountains and the Wildflower Festival, which will feature Creedence Clearwater Revival.

“We’re looking forward to a big summer,” Skinner said. “We have a bunch of events coming through, and hopefully fire will not be an issue this year.”

Beetle spraying proposed for area

The San Juan National Forest is asking for public comment on a proposal to safeguard mature ponderosa pine trees from bark beetle infestation. The Columbine Ranger District is proposing to spray selected trees at developed recreation sites. The recreation sites considered for treatment include campgrounds at Lower Hermosa, Junction Creek, Haviland Lake, Chris Park, Miller Creek, Florida, Transfer Park, Old Timers, Pine Point, Graham Creek, North Canyon, and Middle Mountain.

Not all trees in the campgrounds would be treated - only the larger, healthier trees would be sprayed. The project will not only help save the most aesthetically pleasing trees, it will reduce future hazards to public safety posed by unstable, dying trees.

The proposal calls for spraying of the pesticides Carbaryl (commonly known as Sevin) or Permethrin (commonly known as Astro) on the trunks and branches of selected trees. Application of the chemicals would be via pressurized, directional, hand-held wand from a hydraulic man-lift.

Sites would be closed to the public during spraying and until the pesticide dries completely, probably only for a few days. Signs would be posted to alert the public as to which trees have been sprayed.

The planned treatment is in response to an escalating bark beetle outbreak that has already killed many ponderosa pine trees throughout the Four Corners. The beetles, which are now wintering in many of the dead trees, are expected to emerge in early to mid-May and fly into nearby healthy ponderosa trees. For that reason, the Forest Service says that protection measures should be taken as soon as possible. Comments on the proposal will be taken through April 18. For more information, contact Dave Crawford at 970-884-1428, or via email at:

City cuts veterans parking break

Last week, the Durango City Council responded to a request and approved free parking for veterans who hold Purple Hearts. George Leonard, a Purple Heart holder, and John Hardardt, Veterans Service Officer with La Plata County, had requested the city consider the free parking issue.

From the start, members of city council favored the idea, but wanted to institute a time limit. With Leonard and Hardardt’s agreement, a two-hour time limited was approved. Henceforth, automobiles that have the Purple Heart license plates are allowed to have 2-hour free parking in metered spots.

There are 63 Purple Heart license plates in La Plata County.






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