Rafters prepare to enjoy the Animas River last summer. After months of workgroups and public meetings, the city’s management plan for the future of recreation on the Animas has been presented to the public./Photo by Steve Eginoire

The flow of ideas

City floats draft of Animas River Management plan
by Tracy Chamberlin

What began as banter bouncing around a meeting table in November has morphed into a 54-page framework on the future of recreation on the Animas River.

“These are all recommendations from the community,” said Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation, during a meeting Monday night at the Durango Recreation Center where a draft of the Animas River Corridor Management Plan was presented to the public.

The meeting was not about bringing up new topics, but a review of collective ideas. And although the city is still taking public comment on the plan, it is not looking to rewrite the document.
The focus is on making sure issues and concerns discovered in the workgroups, surveys and public meetings held over the past five months have been included in the draft.

During the meeting, Metz and Joy Lujan, community planner with the National Park Service, directed discussions toward subjects that enjoyed a consensus among participants, but may have been missed while organizing the wealth of material. “Did we get this right?” Lujan asked.

Issues not introduced by community members and river users during the initial process, or ones where a general agreement was not reached were not included. For example, a consensus was not attained on a specific design for the popular river access point at 33rd Street and its development depends largely on upgrades to other access points. Therefore, a suggested diagram was not added to the draft.

Debate still exists, but the plan provides structure and a framework for future management of the Animas River and allows the community to move forward. “We can’t negotiate this forever,” Lujan said.

According to the draft, it is “intended to help ensure protection of the river … and provide management objectives for its recreational use.”
And, just as initial discussions were organized into six topics, the plan is organized into six categories of management: river access points; in-stream recreational amenities; conservation and habitat; water quality; regulation and law enforcement; and education and community outreach.

The draft describes the overall vision, breaks down the process used to develop the plan, suggests ways of managing the river, and offers ideas for monitoring the plan’s effectiveness.

Some of the goals are conceptual, like emphasizing conservation and responsible stewardship. Others are more specific, like improvements to a key river access point at 29th Street and the development of the Whitewater Park at Smelter.

Many of the concepts offered in the plan and issues raised at the meeting can only be addressed during the implementation process.

The Cameron/Sterk, aka “The Beach,” property is one of those issues. The city is still negotiating the purchase of the almost 44 acres of land about a mile north of 32nd Street, which Metz said they are hoping to close on this summer.

Once the purchase is complete, specific details of the property’s development that were raised during Monday’s meeting, like the number of parking spaces available or placement of signage, can be debated.

The management plan simply allows the community and the city to take the next steps toward those discussions.

Some of the other topics brought up by attendees Monday included potential jurisdictional matters between the city and county, how protection of the environment could be measured, what types of triggers could signal overuse of the lands and facilities, how better behavior could be encouraged, and how future funding issues could be addressed.

However, the most time was spent discussing enforcement.

Attendees wanted to know how the city could ensure river users were also positive stewards of the Animas, and who would ultimately be accountable for monitoring and enforcement.

Ideas suggested included the creation of a Neighborhood Watch and guidance from the City Council. One suggestion offered in the plan is the creation of a River Ambassador Program. Modeled after the Mountain Safety staff at Durango Mountain Resort, paid staff or volunteers could work during peak times providing positive community outreach and education.

Ultimately, the meeting ended with remarks of gratitude for the time and efforts put in by city staff and the community. Lujan commented on Durango’s willingness to open the discussion to the public, and rely so heavily on them during the process.
“Not everybody’s willing to open things up this wide,” she said.

The next step is to present the plan to two city advisory boards. The first presentation will be at 5 p.m. May 10 before the Parks and Recreation Board at the Durango Rec Center. The second will be at 6 p.m. May 14 before the Natural Lands and Preservation board at the Durango Public Library. The plan will then go before the City Council for review and a vote.

The two board meetings and the council meeting are open to public comment. The draft is also available for public review on the city’s website, www.durangogov.org, and Metz said comments will be taken until the end of May by emailing rec@ci.durango.co.us.

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