I'mMelting: A snowman along E. Third Avenue holds up to the midday sun./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

City brings back the late-night bus

Durango's Buzz Bus is back. This week city officials announced the return of late-night bus service for bar patrons. The bus will run Friday and Saturday nights between 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. The new service does come at a price, however. Fines for downtown parking violations have gone up from $4 to $6.

"The city is excited to offer these additional transit services to the community," said Assistant City Manager Greg Caton. "City Council and staff are constantly thinking of ways to improve the downtown experience. We want to ensure that people have a pleasurable experience while downtown and that they get home safely after having fun."

Late night service areas include: all of downtown Durango, Florida Road, SkyRidge, Fort Lewis College, North Main Avenue and Highway 160 West within the city limits. The service costs $3 per one-way trip. The city tested demand for the service on New Year's Eve and more than 100 riders took advantage.

The city also has announced the introduction of a Central Business District (CBD) shopper shuttle, which will run from May 24 through Sept. 1. This free circulator shuttle will operate throughout the Main Avenue Shopping District between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday with limited service Sunday.

Both services were approved by the City Council in December as part of the 2004 annual budget.

Counties seek local forest control

Just on the other side of the San Juans, a coalition of eight counties has banded together under the banner of the Healthy Forests Initiative. And while the initiative has been criticized as being a front for logging, the counties are trying to kick off a $1 million forest restoration project.

The coalition is called the County Partnership Restoration Project and includes counties in or around the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests, including San Miguel, Montrose and Hinsdale counties.

San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes said the intent is to create grass roots management of area forest restoration. One potential project would be the removal of dead and dying spruce surrounding the town of Telluride, he said.

"It's a way for the counties to influence federal land management and for the land managers it was a way to get money out of the bureaucracy," Goodtimes said.

A sticking point, however, has been freeing up the money from the bureaucracy. Last year's funding for the project was instead spent on the Front Range, restoring the urban interface around the Hayman Fire.

Consequently, the counties are currently pooling funds to hire a lobbyist to free up the $1 million for next year. Goodtimes said that if the funds don't appear next year, the County Partnership Restoration Project will likely disappear.

"It'll been two or three years of process without product," he said. "If we don't get funded soon, I think it will probably go away."

River Trail negotiations deadlocked

Efforts to link up the missing section of the Animas River Trail remain unresolved, and the City of Durango is continuing to pursue its last resort condemning the necessary property behind the China Restaurant. However, there is hope that negotiations will pay off and condemnation can be avoided.

The Animas River Trail is interrupted in the middle at the Main Avenue bridge. Over the past couple years, the city has worked to buy property from Terri D's, the VFW Post and China Restaurant to complete the connection. In total, the connection has been estimated at a cost of $2.3 million.

Terri D's and the VFW came to the table and agreed to sell easements, but China Restaurant's owner Louis Cummins has been adamantly opposed. Having exhausted all other options, the city began the process of condemning a portion of Cummins' land last spring. Studies have been completed on the property, and the city is proceeding with condemnation. However, there is still hope that the issue can be resolved peaceably, according to Assistant City Manager Greg Caton. "We are still continuing negotiations, and we are still hopeful that we can avoid condemnation," he said.

Caton said that the city is continuing to negotiate outside the courtroom with Cummins for the sale of the easement. "There have been some recent discussions that have been hopeful," he said.

However, the future of the missing section of the Animas River Trail remains uncertain.

"Over the next couple months we should have more information," Caton said.

Deer and elk harvest down again

Last year's hunting season appears to have been another bust for hunters and wildlife biologists. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has reported that the slow season has not only been bad for herds but has also hindered efforts to test for chronic wasting disease in the state.

Kathi Green, the DOW's disease management coordinator, commented: "The weather was unusually warm and dry through most of the big game seasons, and that typically reduces hunter success. But that won't be clear until after the DOW harvest data becomes available later this winter."

The DOW does know that fewer deer and elk were tested for chronic wasting disease in 2003 and that all of the animals that tested positive for the fatal disease were taken from or near areas that were also infected in 2002. Chronic wasting disease has not been detected in herds in the San Juan Mountains, the Uncompahgre Plateau, Gunnison Basin, San Luis Valley or Sangre de Cristo Range.

So far, 15,424 deer, elk and moose have been submitted for CWD testing for the 2003 hunting season, which is 37 percent fewer than the 24,652 animals submitted for testing by the same time last year. A few big game seasons continue into January in areas where additional harvest is needed to manage herds, so some additional animals well be tested over the next month.

"Our goal this year was to have test results back to hunters in two weeks or less, and we accomplished that with nearly all of the animals that were submitted," Green said.

-compiled by Will Sands





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