City works to preserve crux parcel
Purchase of ‘Sailing Hawks’ portion of Animas Mountain in works

The City of Durango is working to preserve the area known locally as Sailing Hawks, the Secret Spot and Jacob’s Cliffs, located in the center of the photo beneath the cliffs. The property is popular among local climbers and hikers and adjoins public property on Animas Mountain but remains privately owned./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

It is an area that goes by many names. For climbers attracted by its exceptional bouldering, the southern flank of Animas Mountain has come to be known as “The Secret Spot.” Hikers and runners accessing the area's network of trails often call it by the name of a neighboring subdivision, “Sailing Hawks.” And as the City of Durango works to purchase the 176 acres from owner Jake Dalla and permanently preserve it as open space, it is using the name “Jacob's Cliffs.” In spite of these various labels, there is a point of widespread agreement about the now privately-owned area.

“It's a magic piece of land,” said Dalla, the Durango-native who currently owns the 176 acres on Animas Mountain's lower south end. “The children of this community have literally grown up on that mountain.”

Scott Graham, chair of Durango's Open Space Advisory Board and also a Durango native, shares Dalla's view of the property. “It is a great parcel,” he said. “I am intimately familiar with it because I grew up near the property as a kid and live close to it now. It's close to town. It's a great piece of wildlife habitat. It's a great area for passive recreation. And it ties in with other parcels of preserved open space.”

The area is densely forested and populated by an unusual number of sandstone boulders, some of which are the size of large buildings. The acreage is also bordered on two sides by Bureau of Land Management property and abuts the City of Durango on a third side. Several well-trodden trails already cross Dalla's property.

Nate Christiansen spends an afternoon climbing at Turtle Lake, a local area that is open to climbing access. If negotiations are successful, climbing, and other recreation, would be legal and welcome in the area known as Sailing Hawks or the Secret Spot./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Jacob's Cliffs has been identified in the City's Parks, Open Space and Trails Plan as one of 20 priorities for acquisition. What makes Jacob's Cliffs different than the other 19 projects, according to Graham, is that Dalla is willing to come to the table and is most interested in seeing it preserved.

“I think all of the priority parcels in the open space plan have value,” Graham said. “But what we have in this case is a property that's on the market and the seller would like to see it preserved.”

Kevin Hall, parks, open space and trails development director, added, “If you look at the open space plan, there are 20 priorities for acquisition. This is near the top of that list, and our open space board has certainly identified it as a priority.”

Dalla commented that his top priority is also that the 176 acres be sold to the city and preserved as open space forever. “I'm interested in seeing it preserved,” he said. “It needs to be managed by the city, who can keep it preserved in perpetuity.”

While the Jacob's Cliffs parcel has long been used by a variety of recreational users, it has also long been marked as private property. Dalla said that he has turned a blind eye to recreation on the property, largely because people have respected the nature of the place. With this in mind, Dalla said that preservation of Jacob's Cliffs goes beyond keeping the acreage clear of development.

“Everybody that goes in there needs to leave only footprints,” he said. “It really belongs to everybody, and it needs to be preserved by everybody.”

Efforts to transfer ownership and stewardship of Jacob's Cliffs have been under way for three years. And though Dalla and the City of Durango have worked long and hard to negotiate a deal, Hall said that nothing is finalized.

“The property owner is interested in protecting the property, and we'd like the city to acquire it and provide appropriate stewardship,” he said. “But we still don't have anything in writing with the property owner. We continue to talk with him.”

Talks have progressed to the point that the city has applied for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, which funnels a portion of lottery proceeds into Colorado conservation projects. Graham noted that the Open Space Advisory Board continues to seek a permanent funding source. Until that time, the board is hoping that things like GOCO funding can help get acquisitions like Jacob's Cliffs off the ground.

“What we've been pushing for, as an open space board, is a way to get dedicated funding so that we get more of these projects going,” Graham said. “The conversation on how to do that is ongoing. In the meantime, it takes things like the GOCO grant to make major acquisitions like this happen.”

The city expects to hear back from GOCO in December on whether the funds will be available for the purchase.

“When we hear back from Great Outdoors Colorado in December, it will then be up to the City Council to decide if they want to proceed with the acquisition,” Hall said.

However, Hall added that Jacob's Cliffs has an important piece of the puzzle already in place—a willing seller. “The owner knows everybody loves his property and recognizes that people are using it as part of the greater Animas Mountain,” he said. “He wants it preserved forever as open space. He also wants to be rightfully compensated for it.”

Dalla concluded by restating that his only goal is keeping the area pristine well into the future.

“One hundred years from now, the magic should still be there,” he said in closing.





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