Looking south from the Animas River Trail bridge at Rotary Park on Tuesday. With the Whitewater Park at Santa Rita all but finished, the river community is setting its sites on the next step in the Animas River Management Plan: Rotary Park. Plans envision new safety and play features, as well as bank stabilization. Over the last few years, cottonwoods have fallen into the river, creating a dangerous strainer at the Main Ave. Bridge./Photo by Jennaye Derge


Riding the wave

Boaters keep momentum of river plan with fund-raiser for Rotary Park project
by Missy Votel


With the Whitewater Park a done deal, local boaters are setting their sights on the next thing on the horizon line: Rotary Park.

Rotary Park was one of several sites identified in the Animas River Corridor Management Plan, which was adopted by the city in February 2013. The community effort, which was overseen by the Animas River Task Force, earmarked about a dozen areas along the river corridor in need of improvements, from whitewater features to bank stabilization, access, maintenance or hazard removal.

Rotary Park is being eyed not only for bank stabilization – a couple of cottonwoods have fallen into the river over the last few years – but improved access as well as a new low-water play feature. Safety is also a concern at the spot, which is upstream of the infamous Main Avenue Bridge and offers little in the way of eddies. There is also an old blue Dodge embedded in the bank on river left that, in addition to being an eyesore, could also pose a hazard.

“I’m really excited,” local boater and river advocate Aaron Lombardo said of the site’s potential. “With the new brew pub, the Gazebo and the pedestrian bridge, where people will be able to look right down from the bridge into the play hole, that spot is so cool.”


What: 2015 Whitewater Benefit
When: Fri., Jan. 23, 5 p.m.- midnight Where: Animas City Theatre
Who: Performances by Skypilot and Durango Funk All-Stars and drawing for Liquid Logic creek boat
Tickets: $10 with proceeds going toward Rotary Park river improvement project

Lombardo, who was involved with the Animas River Management Plan, said the vision for the spot involves a river left eddy above the Main Ave. bridge at high water, as well as bank stabilization and anti-erosion measures. Plans also call for an enhanced low-water play feature on river left, where a natural hole already exists and a river right sneak for those who do not want to work on their aerial maneuvers. “The goal is to have a low-water feature, a hole for more modern freestyle moves,” Lombardo said. “That’s what Durango is missing right now.”

However, before the plan – and boaters for that matter – can get off the ground, there are a few hurdles, namely funding and Army Corps permitting.

According to John Brennan, longtime local boater who helps coach Durango Whitewater and was involved in the implementation and design of the Whitewater Park, the Rotary Park plan is still in the preliminary stages.

“We have not secured a permit or access,” he said, adding that the Task Force is awaiting word from the Army Corps of Engineers on what sort of permit would be needed for the work. “We are moving forward with the plan,” he said, adding, “the community is really serious about taking care of the river.”

But even before a permit can be explored, funding must be secured. Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said with the recent outlay of $1.3 million for the Whitewater Park at Santa Rita, the city is tapped out on money for river projects. “Our first priority was the 4    Whitewater Park,” she said. “There’s just not a lot of money for other projects.”

As a result, Lombardo and other local boaters are looking to get the ball rolling with a fund-raiser on Fri., Jan. 23, at the Animas City Theater. The event starts at 5 p.m. and will include live music as well as a grand prize drawing for a Liquid Logic creek boat. Proceeds from the $10 entry will go toward the Rotary Park work.

The grassroots funding is something the boating community has banded together for in the past, and a move Metz, and potential funding sources such as Great Outdoors Colorado, applaud.

“The river community is trying to get funding to assist with the implementation of the project, and they’ve done a great job raising money in the past,” she said.

And while work on the Rotary Park project may still be a few years off, Metz said work at the Whitewater Park is ongoing. Despite recent weather setbacks, plans call for the hardscaping and on-shore improvements, including completion of the Animas River Trail and a new pavilion at Smelter, to be done in time for Animas River Days, set for May 29-31.

In addition, in-stream work will be done at the Whitewater Park to tweak some of the features and remove safety hazards. According to Metz, the grouted structures held up well through the run-off season, but some other nongrouted rocks shifted, affecting the play features and/or creating potential entrapment issues.

“The grouted structures are strong, but we expected there would be some moving and shifting,” she said. “We will be doing routine maintenance on some areas that have caused safety concerns.” She said the city is working with Whitewater Park designer, Scott Shipley, of S2O Designs, as well as Brennan to address the problems. Work is likely to take place this month or next, she said.

Brennan said he is also hoping to lift the pools above and below certain structures, such as Corner Pocket, to better define the drops and make them more “user friendly.” Plans also call for improving the river right eddy access for Ponderosa and adjusting Clock Tower so the wave comes in at lower water. Overall, though, he said he has been surprised at how good the Ponderosa wave has been – even at extremely low flows.

“I was down there the other day at 250 cfs, and it was awesome,” he said. “It’s still pretty damned good.”

In addition to the Whitewater Park work, the City will also be conducting work on the city reservoir intake above Smelter Rapid. The work will address a process known as “head cutting,” whereby the intake no longer lines up with the river. 

As with all things river-related, Brennan urged patience with the fluid nature of the ongoing project.

“The river will eventually find its own path,” he said. “But we’re going to have a couple of years where we’re going to have to go in and tweak things.”