The city is taking a three-pronged approach to river-etiquette education, which includes signage, a brochure and video. The brochure will be the first to hit the put-in, likely to be approved by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board this week, with signage and video to follow later this summer./Photo by Steve Eginoire

River rules

City approves final plan, annexation of Oxbow park

by Tracy Chamberlin

Dogs and enforcement. These might be the two words repeated most often during the Durango City Council’s discussion on the newest addition to its park system – Oxbow Park and Preserve.

Before unanimously approving the final version of the park management plan and the annexation of the 44-acre property on Monday night, councilors raised concerns about how some of the guidelines in the document, like requiring that dogs be on a leash, could be enforced.

“We heard loud and clear enforcement is a big issue,” City Councilor Christina Rinderle said during the meeting.

With few detailed enforcement strategies outlined in the plan – which is considered a general framework – and a patchwork of jurisdictional authorities that line the banks of the Animas between Oxbow and the 33rd Street, enforcement will likely remain an issue.

On the line

Transgressions at Oxbow can be reported to the Durango Police Department at
385-2900. Residents are asked not to call the 911 emergency line.

Currently, the Oxbow property falls under county jurisdiction. Once the annexation is complete, as soon as April, city police and park and river rangers will have the authority to enforce laws and city code.

But that’s only on Oxbow’s 44 acres. The property between the park and the next take-out at 33rd is still a mixture. Some lands are private falling under the purview of the county, and some under the city.

“That’s the complication with enforcement on the river,” Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said.

It also makes it a challenge when considering the addition of an enforcement officer to patrol the river. Something that City Councilor Sweetie Marbury championed at the council’s discussion on the Oxbow plan at a Feb. 25 study session as well as the council’s regular meeting Monday night.

Marbury suggested adding a “river ranger in a kayak,” whose presence alone could sway park visitors to follow the rules.

But, that might not be what the community wants. Metz said during public meetings over the Animas River Corridor Management Plan residents and stakeholders did not support putting officers and rangers on the river.

She added that if the current enforcement concept of relying on city officers is ineffective, the plan can be revised and those ideas reconsidered. After all, the plan is considered a general framework and allows for changes.

“These plans are meant to be a 30,000-foot view,” Metz explained.

It’s also unclear which type of enforcement would be effective. This is the first time Oxbow has been subject to any type of enforcement. “The city is now taking an active role,” Metz added.

Looking at past successes in enforcement, Metz spoke of the 33rd Street put-in where the community element was tapped to assist officers and rangers. 

The city is looking to utilize that support at Oxbow with a neighborhood watch. No program has yet been established, but it’s something Metz would like to do.

Concerns about enforcement raised by councilors and community members during the process of developing Oxbow is one of the reasons the education component is so important, according to Metz.

For example, the final version of the plan leaves in language asking river users floating downstream from Oxbow to 33rd Street, designated a “Nature Paddling Trail,” to use “a paddle, swim flippers or swim hand paddles,” as well as “wear an approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD).”

Metz said it’s not intended to keep anyone off the river.

“We’re not passing a law or city code that in order to get on the river you must have a PFD or a paddle,” Metz said.

The impetus behind keeping that language in the document is about knowing what can happen once the journey is under way. Metz said the slow-moving water in that section could leave someone floating nowhere fast. If they do step onto the shore, they’d be trespassing on private property and could then be subject to prosecution.

Additional highlights in the final plan address specific activities like requiring dogs on a leash; defining guidelines for using the Nature Paddling Trail; identifing future improvements to the 6-acre park area; and outlining a management strategy for the 38-acre preserve, which is closed until June 30 to complete a wildlife survey.

It also addresses commercial use, trash and parking.

Businesses interested in commercial use of the put-in are required to get a separate river access permit from the city; like most city parks dogs are required to stay on leash; and, park visitors are asked to “leave no trace.”

For now, no parking is allowed on the property. The only way to get to Oxbow today or even this summer, is walking or getting dropped off. However, parking is a part of the future development.

The next step in future development is the actual design of the 6-acre park and river access point, which begins in earnest April 17 with the first public meeting. No construction will take place this year.

The meeting will be followed by on-site trips in May to Oxbow, the 33rd Street put-in, the 29th Street put-in and Santa Rita Park, all upgrades included in the Animas River Corridor Management Plan.

DHM Design, the firm contracted to design the park, is working on the project with SME Environmental Consultants, the same group that made the baseline assessment of the property in 2012 when it was first bought by the city.

For updated information about public meetings, the design process or to comment, contact the Parks & Recreation Department at or 375-7321.