Celebrating open space, flowing rivers
2nd annual Bluegrass for the Animas festival this weekend

With River Trails Ranch on everyone’s lips, perhaps there is no better time for this Saturday’s festival celebrating open space and the Animas River watershed – the second annual Bluegrass for the Animas.

“The timing, I think, is really ideal in the midst of all the controversy around River Trails Ranch,” said Tami Graham, executive director of Animas Conservancy, which is co-sponsoring the event. “It gives people the opportunity to come and experience significant open space in the Animas Valley.”

The festival features a day of live bluegrass, food and beer and will benefit the Animas Conservancy as well as Friends of the Animas River. The event will take place on the 120-acre Animas Meanders Ranch – north of 32nd Street and a quarter mile from the proposed River Trails Ranch.

“I think it’s the most spectacular concert site in Southwest Colorado,” Graham said.

All performers and vendors will be donating their services and goods, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Friends of the Animas River and Animas Conservancy, she said.

Owners of the property, Paul and Leela Sugnet, founded Animas Conservancy four years ago and the property was the first easement held by the conservancy. The mission of the conservancy is to work with landowners to conserve open space in the Animas River watershed, primarily through conservation easements. The easements permanently protect land from development while allowing landowners to retain ownership, Graham said. Land trusts like Animas Conservancy “hold” and enforce the easement guidelines for generations, she said.

“Obviously we’re open-space advocates, especially along the Animas River watershed, which has already been seriously compromised by development,” Graham said.

The common mission of protecting the health and well-being of the Animas River – as well as a shared love of music – made for a natural partnership between the conservancy and Friends of the Animas River, Graham said. As a former station manager at KDUR and booking agent for the Durango Society of Cultural and

Local bluegrass band The Salty Dogs performs at last year’s Bluegrass for the Animas. Six acts will be taking the stage at this year’s event./Photo courtesy
Tami Graham.

Performing Arts, Graham has experience producing live music. Likewise, Anders Beck, executive director of Friends of the Animas River, plays Dobro and is a member of local bluegrass bands the Salty Dogs and Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, which won first place in the band contest at this year’s RockyGrass Festival.

“It’s basically my two passions: music and the environment,” Beck said. “And particularly bluegrass.”

Beck said Durango is becoming a hotbed for bluegrass, as musicians who lived in Boulder in the ’70s and ’80s have moved here trying to recapture that scene. He rattled off a list of accomplished musicians in the area including Benny Galloway, the Yonder Mountain String Band lyricist who will perform at Bluegrass for the Animas.

“The amount of talent we have here is really something special,” he said.

Beck added that the beauty of the local bluegrass community is its diversity and ability to intermingle.

“One of the amazing things about bluegrass is...there’s this repertoire of 100 to 200 songs that you’re supposed to know,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter if you’re a redneck, a hippie, young, old, cowboy 85 you know it, and you can play together.

Above:Tami Graham and Leela Sugnet at Bluegrass for the Animas, 2002. Leela and Paul Sugnet own the 120- acre Animas Meanders Ranch, which has been put under a conservation easement which is held by the Animas Conservancy./Photo courtesy Tami Graham

Below: The site of the Bluegrass for the Animas festival is on open space north of 32nd Street, near the proposed River Trails Ranch./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

As for his other passion, the environment, Beck said Bluegrass for the Animas is the biggest fund-raiser of the year for Friends of the Animas River, which seeks to be a “watchdog for the entire watershed.”

Friends of the Animas River avoids duplicating the work of other environmental groups, so currently the group’s main priority is eradicating invasive Russian olive trees from the area.

“In this corner of the world, Russian olive is the big problem,” Beck said.

And while raising money for environmental goals is important, Beck said that ultimately the festival is meant as a celebration.

“It’s a big party in a beautiful location – 120 acres of open space in the Animas Valley with great music all day,” Beck said. “It’s just fun.”






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