Rules of the river
City ponders new regulations for Animas River

SideStory: Dolores River season looking short

Some tubers soak up the sun while floating the Animas River through Durango last summer. Tubing and other forms of recreational floating have increased significantly in the last few years, prompting city officials to examine new safety and alcohol regulations./Photo by Stephen Eginoire


Changes are flowing into the Animas River, some sooner than others. Although plans for Whitewater Park upgrades have temporarily eddied out, new rules governing recreational boating are looming on the not-too-distant horizon line.

In a study session next Tuesday, the Durango City Council will consider changes to existing city ordinance that would ban alcohol on the river and at the put-ins and take-outs; put and end to late-night boating missions; and require personal flotation devices for all private boaters. The City is pursuing the clampdown in light of the exploding number of private boaters, most notably tubers, and escalating tensions between them and residents, particularly at the 32nd Street put in. There are also safety concerns over unprepared or inebriated boaters. Over the last few years, Durango Fire and Rescue has responded to a growing number of stranded river users, most of who are not wearing PFDs or proper foot wear.

If commercial traffic is any indication, the Animas River was the third-busiest in the state last year, with 42,000 paying to get their feet wet. Commercial outfitters were not the only ones keeping busy. In 2009, Durango police arrested 38 people at the 32nd Street put-in and issued 68 citations for everything from drunk and disorderly to open container, indecent exposure and littering.

“For a while, it’s been unclear if the river is considered a public place where you can’t have an open container,” said Durango Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz. “These proposed changes would make it clear that, yes, it is a public place.”

Included in this provision would be not only a ban on open containers but a ban on closed alcohol containers, including those in coolers. Also under consideration would be shortening the closing time for put-ins and take-outs from midnight to 10 p.m. As well, the City is looking at making pfd’s mandatory for all river travelers. “We are trying not to penalize responsible users while finding a balance between enjoyment of the river and protecting the resource,” said Metz.

The study session takes place at 4 p.m. in City Council chambers, in City Hall.

And while tubers and rafters can expect big changes this summer, kayakers awaiting the much-talked about Whitewater Park upgrades shouldn’t hold their breath. Although hope was to begin construction late this summer, work on the park has been pushed back, possibly as far as 2012

“We haven’t budgeted yet for 2011, but there is a chance the city might not be able to afford it in 2011 because of budget constraints,” said Metz.

Smelter Rapid takes on a tamer persona this week. The rapid will soon be thumping with run-off, but kayakers awaiting a new, improved play hole will have to be patient a few more years./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

In addition to funding, work on the Whitewater Park is also dependent on approval of a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The City is in the process of making revisions to the final permit application and hopes to resubmit it this spring. Metz said the permit is for in-stream work as well as work along the eroded river left bank, paralleling the Animas River Trail. “The plan calls for bank enhancement between the river and trail to stabilize the bank, re-vegetate it and provide better access,” she said.

Money for the park, expected to cost upwards to $2 million, would come from the ¼-cent sales tax for park improvements approved by city voters in 2005. The City set aside $550,000 for the project in 2010.

As per provisions of the city’s recreational in-channel diversion water rights, which were secured in 2007, the city must build permanent structures to direct the flow. With its RICD, Durango is allowed use of 185 to 1,400 cubic feet per second, depending on time of year, for the 1,200-foot stretch from Smelter Rapid down.

The design includes four river-wide features as well as various smaller ones, was the end result of numerous public meetings and river-user input, and was completed by Scott Shipley, of S20 Engineering, in Boulder.

And speaking of boulders, although kayakers won’t be paddling over them this summer, they at least will get to see them. In a unique public-private partnership, the Glacier Club at Tamarron is donating 4,000 cubic yards of boulders to the city for use in the Whitewater Park. The boulders will be delivered free of charge this summer by the National Guard in a training mission and stored between the River Trail and wastewater treatment plant. Metz said storing the rocks here makes more sense than storing them off site, only to have to move them again for construction. She said trail traffic will be temporarily disrupted while the boulders are delivered, but nothing nearly as disruptive as last summer’s moving of the wastewater outlet pipe.

“We are making incremental steps in the right direction,” said Metz. “Depending on the 404 permit and the budget, it could push construction to 2012.” •



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