Hostel finds a home
Local plans to open new, 26-bed facility

Candace Lemon, far right, stands with independent contractor Kaan Clark, left, and her assistant, Heather Noland, outside the 2,600-square-foot Goeglein Gulch home that is being renovated as a new hostel. When complete, the facility will offer 26 beds, a communal kitchen and computers and internet access. Lemon is currently seeking city approval for the plan and hopes to be open this fall./Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

Thrifty travelers and solo sojourners will soon have a place to hang their packs and lay their heads in Durango.

After an absence of nearly five years, a hostel once again is planning to open its doors to those in need of a good night’s rest without all the frills. The tentatively named Durango Hometown Hostel, owned by the father-daughter team of Paul and Candace Lemon, could open its doors, City Council willing, as soon as this fall.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about the city planning process,” said Candace, 28, who has been shepherding the project through the city’s planning pipes. The parcel of land where the hostel will be located, about half a mile up Goeglein Gulch Road from the intersection of 8th Avenue and College Drive, is currently in La Plata County. However, hostel owners are seeking city annexation, and as such, must develop the parcel according to the city’s planning guidelines. The conceptual plan for the hostel gained approval from the city’s Planning Department earlier this summer with the City Council giving its unanimous approval at its Aug. 21 meeting. The final hurdle will be City Council consideration of the hostel’s final plan and annexation, most likely in October.

Candace said reception has been good, from residents and city officials alike, and she is optimistic the project will gain final approval. “We’ve gotten pretty incredible support, everyone is super interested,” she said. “I’m hoping to have approval in mid-October.”

In the meantime, work has already begun on gutting the interior of the 2,600-square-foot, 1975, two-story future hostel as well as a small manager’s quarters for Candace. When complete, the hostel will be able to sleep 26 guests in four dormitory-style rooms equipped with 13 bunk beds. Candace said she envisions male- and female–only dorms as well as two commingled dorms. In addition, the hostel will have a community kitchen with new appliances, including a dishwasher; a common area, with books, a fireplace, computers and internet hookups; an upstairs bathroom and a larger downstairs one; and lockers for guests’ belongings.

Outside amenities will include a vegetable garden, native landscaping, raspberry patch, possible rental bikes and a parking lot. However, it is Candace’s hope that, with the hostel being located directly on the Durango T line as well as the new Goeglein Gulch paved trail, most of the patrons will opt for alternative transportation. “I’m hoping I’ll have quite a few guests who don’t come in cars,” she said. In fact, Candace said she plans to build the hostel with an eye toward sustainability by allowing guests to eat from the garden, planting low-water buffalo grass and thyme lawns and encouraging recycling. In addition, the bunk beds are being made by a local carpenter. “I told him what they would cost to buy and asked him if he could match it and he said he could,” she said. “If I can use local materials and labor, it just makes more sense.”

A native of Durango, Candace came upon the career of hostel keeper in a roundabout way. After graduating from Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash., with a liberal arts degree, she was bitten by the travel bug. She financed her trips mostly through a summer landscaping business although she once worked for five months in Antarctica as a painter in order to get a free trip to New Zealand. “You fly into Antarctica through New Zealand, so my air fare was paid for,” she said. “When I was done working, I got to travel all over New Zealand.”

An chair sits empty in one of the Druango Hometown Hostel’s future dorm rooms, which will soon be filled with bunk beds. The hostel will be the first such accommodations for budget-minded travelers since the downtown Durango Hostel was demolished in 2002./Photo by David Halterman.

Candace also has traveled throughout South America, Europe and Thailand. However, she said she always considers Durango her home, thus the name for the new venture.

“I want to call it Durango Hometown Hostel because Durango is my hometown,” she said. “It’s something I feel good about socially and by contributing to my hometown.”

In fact, it was here, in her hometown, that one day last year, she stumbled upon the hostel idea, thanks to two unwitting accomplices.

“I was walking down the street and two tourists pulled over and asked for directions to the hostel,” she said. Candace said she could see the couple had an outdated guidebook, which contained a listing for the now-defunct Durango Hostel, which was demolished to make way for the Mears House condominiums in 2002. “I had to say, ‘Sorry.’”

At the same time, Candace said she was looking for an alternative to landscaping and, being a frequent hostel connoisseur herself, put the two together. “We stumbled upon this property, and it’s really as good as it gets. It’s close to town but has room for parking and is on the bike path, it just seemed to fit,” she said. “Then, one thing led to another.”

With the help of her father, who bought the land in May and will lease it back to Candace, the new hostel was born. She said while many people are nostalgic for Durango’s former historic downtown hostel, she is planning on making a few distinctions between old and new. For starters, she will focus on serving travelers, with La Plata County residents limited to stays of two consecutive nights, twice a month. Candace said she decided to do this to get away from the “exclusive” feel she found at other hostels where people are allowed to stay for several weeks at a time. “I wanted to avoid that ‘club’ feel,” she said “Sometimes, when you stay at hostels where people have been there for a while, you feel like you’re imposing on them and invading their space.”

However, she added that she encourages local residents who live outside of town or are in between addresses to take advantage of the accommodations. “I totally welcome people from places like Bayfield or Ignacio who want to come into to town to see a concert or something to crash for the night, or people who are in between living situations to stay for a few days,” she said.

Although Candace said prices will depend on how the planning process unfolds and how soon she can open her doors, she said tentative rates are $30/night during peak season and $28 during off season. “That’s the worst-case scenario, I’m trying to keep it as low as possible,” she said.

To further help keep prices low, Candace said she plans on keeping things simple and doing most of the work herself, from cleaning rooms to checking guests in and out.

And for those who are willing to put up with inexpensive communal living for a few days, the rewards can be rich. “Staying in hostels is such a great way to meet people and get a feel for a place,” she said. “I’m just trying to keep what I love about Durango vibrant and alive.” •



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