Whitewater park surges forward

An improved whitewater park and guaranteed flows to feed it are off and rolling. Last week, the Durango City Council voted 4-1 to pursue recreational water rights for an enhanced whitewater park at Santa Rita Park.

The plan, expected to cost $244,000, calls for upgrading the existing whitewater park by shoring up Smelter Rapid, which has been plagued over the years by shifting rocks. A sneak route for high flows would also be added. In addition, Corner Pocket, which took a beating in last year’s high flows, would be reshaped and reinforced, and two additional play structures would be created. The plan calls for the use of grout to anchor the rock structures in place.

“The current features that were built in the late 1980s never had grout,” explained Cathy Metz, Durango Parks and Recreation director. “They do tend to move during higher flows. We are planning for five different features, and they should be much more stable.”

Most significantly, the City of Durango hopes to secure water rights, known as recreational in-channel diversion rights, or RICDs, in conjunction with the improvements. These water rights would ensure flows for recreation in the face of any upstream development. The application was filed early this week, and according to Metz, the city will wait on water rights before doing any work on the river.

“It could take a year before the water decree is finalized,” she said. “It’s unlikely that the city will invest in the improvements at Smelter until that time.”

This is not the first time the city has proposed such a plan. A few years back, Recreation Engineering and Planning, which is headed up by prominent whitewater park designer Gary Lacy, drew up plans for Smelter.

However, they were tabled in the face of opposition from local river users. In light of the structural requirements for RICDs, Lacy’s firm was again brought on board.

The project remains somewhat controversial, but objections are now coming from outside the boating community. There are numerous concerns that the water-rights filing will impact future upstream development. Metz said that the city plans to assuage these concerns before going to water court. “Our hope is that we will continue the process of negotiation with upstream water users,” she said. “We anticipate that we will be able to prepare a draft decree so that when we get before the water court, we will have a situation everyone is comfortable with.”


Major Mancos open space preserved

A monumental open space project has found success near Mancos. The Montezuma Land Conservancy has purchased a conservation easement on the 640-acre Bar TV Ranch near Mesa Verde National Park. The purchase was made possible in part by an $862,000 Lottery grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and ensures that the property will be protected in perpetuity. Coupled with agricultural conservation easements donated by several nearby landowners, there are 1,200 acres of protected lands in the Mancos Valley, including 3.55 river miles.

The Bar TV Ranch is one of the largest operating livestock ranches along the lower Mancos River and a significant part of the Mesa Verde viewshed. Located in the lower Mancos Valley and visible from the San Juan Skyway, the ranch includes a large riparian corridor along the lower Mancos River.  

Ranch owners Tom Colbert and his wife Virginia began working with Montezuma Land Conservancy in 2004 to ensure that the Bar TV Ranch would forever be dedicated to agricultural production and scenic open space.

“Our first meeting two years ago was with several members of the Colbert Family at the Mancos P & D. It seemed like half the town was there, too,” said Nina Williams, co-executive director of the land conservancy. “When I heard the ranch was for sale, I called Tom. That ranch is so visible that it really sets the tone in that part of the valley. One hundred or more houses on the Bar TV Ranch’s prime irrigated soils would have forever changed the Mancos Valley.”

Following the conservation easement signing, the Colberts sold the Bar TV Ranch to the Perry Family from Florida. “This shows that properties with conservation easements are indeed marketable,” offered Dave Nichols, co-executive director of the Montezuma Land Conservancy. “There really are buyers seeking out properties with conservation easements because they value intact and protected properties with agricultural resources.”

The Bar TV conservation easement allows farming and ranching activities and prohibits subdivision.


Bark beetles back in the spotlight

Bark beetles and the wildfire hazards from beetle-killed trees are again triggering discussion in Colorado. The subjects were the focus of a February hearing at the Colorado State Capitol and the 2005 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests, which cites the worst bark beetle epidemics in the state’s recorded history.

“The top priority with the mountain pine beetle epidemic is protecting communities from the resulting elevated wildfire risk,” said State Forester Jeff Jahnke. Wildfire hazard dramatically increases for about five years after the tree dies.

Jahnke also presented a surprising threat to Colorado’s aspen forests. Colorado has more aspen than any other Western state, and as the state’s only major deciduous species, it provides diverse habitat for wildlife and draws visitors. However stands of aspen are also in peril. Since aspen is often the first tree to grow after wildfires, the long-time suppression of fire is a threat to the species. As a result, most of Colorado’s aspen forests are currently nearing the end of their life cycles.

The 2005 report is the fifth in a series of annual publications requested by the Colorado General Assembly and can be found at: www.colostate.edu/Depts/CSFS.


Panel tackles disaster preparedness

A panel of experts will discuss Durango and La Plata County’s preparedness for the variety of disasters facing our community this week. The free talk is part of Fort Lewis College’s Winter 2006 Lifelong Learning Lecture Series and takes place March 2 at 7 p.m. in 130 Noble Hall.

Topics for discussion also include city and county interaction, coordination with state and federal officials, resources available, bio-terrorism responses, and challenges facing the Red Cross.

Panelists include Tish Gavelda, field staff and Southwest Colorado coordinator for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management; Butch Knowlton, director of emergency preparedness for La Plata County; Josh Joswick, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Chapter of the American Red Cross; and panel moderator Karen Rowan, former coordinator of the bio-terrorism response plan for the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management Center.

Fort Lewis offers the 12-lecture Lifelong Learning Series on subjects of interest to residents of the Four Corners region. The successful program is now in its 11th semester and is presented by the Professional Associates of Fort Lewis College.

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows