Raider Ridge connection fades away

A hotly contested plan to connect the Skyridge community to Horse Gulch via a trail appears to be fizzling away. Based on opposition to the short singletrack spur, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is currently exploring other options.

When the Skyridge development was approved for construction, much of the subdivision’s backdrop was dedicated to the city as permanent open space. Since that time, a connector trail linking Skyridge with the extensive Telegraph Trail System in Horse Gulch has been discussed. Skyridge residents Seth and Jody Furtney and the Friends of Raider Ridge brought the idea back to life early last year when they asked the city to build a better trail to the top of Raider Ridge. While some view the proposal as an amenity for Durango, others have called it a physical and aesthetic threat. A rival group, Don’t Raid Our Ridge, countered that a new trail would carry numerous impacts, affecting wildlife, erosion, fire danger and quality of life.

Kevin Hall, parks, open space and trails development manager, said that the city has weighed the pros and cons and has decided to look elsewhere for a connection.

“We saw a pretty significant amount of opposition from the neighborhood,” he said. “Given that opposition, we felt compelled to look at some other options.”

The other options include a connection to the north through a Bureau of Land Management parcel where a trail already exists or to the south closer to the existing entrance to Horse Gulch. Seth Furtney is not pleased with the announcement.

“From what I can tell, I think the city got a little scared of the opposition and has put it on slow rolls,” he said. “The last I heard, I think they’re just going to study it for a couple years.”

Furtney said that the experience has been a frustrating one. “I think it’s a shame,” he said. “I think it’s something that the community would benefit from greatly. I think it’s a little weak-kneed for the city to back off in the face of a vocal minority.”

Furtney concluded that the two new options the city is exploring defeat the purpose.

“You want to provide an access that will serve the Skyridge community and the college community,” he said. “The farther north you go, it starts getting pretty remote. As for the southern option, why not just go up the existing Horse Gulch trail entrance?”

Larry Hock, of Don’t Raid Our Ridge, said that any option that cuts into the hillside is unacceptable to him and his group. He again cited the opinions of several professionals and specialists cautioning against sending a trail up the front side of Raider Ridge.

“Any other options on that hill are not wise geologically or biologically according to my resource people,” he said. “The science hasn’t changed on the hill at all. It’s still unacceptable.”

Hock concluded that the city needs to adopt specific rules and regulations for the management of open space. He added that open space should be left alone, not used for recreation.

“I’m for open space as long as it’s maintained as open space,” he said.

Coal smoke lifts over south side

The coal smoke is lifting over south Durango. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad recently announced that it will take steps to clear up the air in the south Durango neighborhood and business district.

The railroad has started using diesel engines for its late afternoon switching in the yard, allowing for its coal-fired steam locomotives to be moved into the roundhouse and under the scrubber system more quickly. The move is expected to vastly reduce particulate concentrations and smoke.

The decision piggy-backs on an earlier move by the D&SNGRR to lessen its impacts on the local airshed. Two years ago, the railroad installed a Venturi Wet Scrubber system, which was a major accomplishment, according to Wano Urbonas, Environmental Health Director for San Juan Basin Health Department. Urbonas said that the voluntary diesel switching should further improve the picture.

“This next innovative step will further reduce particulate concentrations emitted by locomotives,” he said. “It is a nonregulatory, goodwill gesture that should be applauded and built upon. It demonstrates both a concern for community welfare, as well as an ability to implement cost-effective, air pollution-prevention strategies.”

The use of the diesel engines for switching began with the summer season in May. The D&SNGRR reports that it has already received positive feedback from south side residents

“We will attempt to quantify actual particulate reductions and conduct opacity readings, while maintaining open lines of communication with the D&SNGRR and the community at-large,” Urbonas said.

Timber sales reopened to oversight

A Durango attorney recently argued successfully against a Bush administration rule that exempted some timber sales from public oversight. Matt Kenna, of the Western Environmental Law Center, said the decision will prevent the Forest Service from categorically excluding public involvement in the decision-making process. Judge James Singleton also ruled that the Forest Service cannot prevent the public from appealing its decisions.

The Bush administration had expanded the use of “categorical exclusions,” an administrative procedure that allows the Forest Service to bypass environmental assessments or environmental impact statements on certain projects. The administration had claimed the rules were necessary to facilitate crucial logging projects and prevent catastrophic wildfire. The agency can still use categorical exclusions, but it must allow for administrative appeals, according to the court order.

Kenna and the Western Environmental Law Center were representing five conservation groups in the suit.

“The Forest Service tried to turn a law that only exempted actions such as mowing an office lawn from public comment and appeal into one exempting timber sales and other threats to the environment from citizen review,” Kenna said. “We’re pleased that the court did the right thing by standing up for government transparency in decisions that affect our natural heritage.”

Tactics change on wildland use fire

The Forest Service is taking a new approach to the 1,200-acre fire that has been burning southeast of Pagosa Springs for the last three weeks. While the agency will not be extinguishing the wildland-use fire, it is taking steps to prevent it from growing any larger.

A wildland-use fire is a blaze started by natural means that is left to its own devices by fire crews. The Rio Blanco fire 10 miles southeast of Pagosa was initially allowed to burn for the sake of biological benefit. However, the recent absence of moisture has caused the Forest Service to take some proactive steps. “We’re not putting the fire out,” said Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles, “but we feel we have it sufficiently contained such that it won’t grow much larger right now.”

Increasing dryness in trees, shrubs and grasses along with warmer nighttime temperatures have not only decreased the benefits of the fire, they have increased the risk of it spreading.

When the Rio Blanco fire first started, the fire was burning very moderately, removing debris on the forest floor and killing some understory. However, torching and crowning incidents have become more frequent.

Over the next several days, a Rocky Mountain Fire Use Management Team will strengthen the existing fireline and mop up along the margins of the fire to the west and south. Once those objectives are achieved, the team will be released and management of the fire will return to the Pagosa Ranger District.

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale