Tubing troubles

Putting together a viable management plan for the Oxbow Park and Preserve is proving to be rather challenging – though predictably so – in aligning the various interests to support the range of activities the land can support. The discussion can be framed as a high-minded debate between the values of various public river uses and adjoining property owners’ expectations of privacy, but what it is coming down to in practice is an unfair focus on one user group, one that is being singled out for exclusion at the Oxbow site. That is the wrong approach.

Private property owners whose land abuts the Animas River near Oxbow are outspoken critics of the tubing activity that is increasingly popular during the high-temperature, low-water days of summer. These tubers are so much riffraff, property owners complain, who spend their river time boozing, littering and relieving themselves with nary a care – trespassing or decorum be damned. With this litany of abhorrent antics as evidence, the city now is proposing that tubers not be allowed to begin their floats at the Oxbow site and might further restrict the activity by requiring all river users to have a life jacket and paddle. That is far too extreme and discriminatory to boot.

While the poor behavior that tubers demonstrate is perhaps more prevalent among this user group than some of its more civilized brethren, rafters, kayakers, paddleboarders, dog walkers and swimmers have the propensity to be just as disruptive and disrespectful. A busload of visitors preparing to load onto rafts for a three-hour trip is no small distraction to those seeking a quiet river – or home – experience. But these commercial users are critical to the local economy and therefore have a concentrated and compelling voice in shaping Oxbow policy. Not so the tubers.

Stereotypes about tubers’ behavior originate in some rather egregious examples, and homeowners are right to be unimpressed. The answer is not to simply get rid of a whole group of river users – one that does not require the rather high cost of entry as most other water sports. Instead, the city should work to educate all river users – and perhaps property owners – about how to care for the public resource that is the Animas River. There must be a standard of respect set for all who share the river and its access points, and managing Oxbow to be inclusive is critical to that goal. Instead of eliminating tubing from the list of approved activities, the city should redouble its education and enforcement efforts so that everyone who uses Oxbow knows what is appropriate.

That goes for adjoining property owners, as well. While they certainly are right to be aggrieved by the goings-on and leavings of floating revelers, those who own land along the Animas must be reminded that the river is a shared resource – for any and all to use. The city invested significantly in Oxbow – not to provide nearby property owners with an extended slice of private idyll, but to provide a multiuse access for river enthusiasts as well as a wildlife preserve for the less vocal, nonhuman members of the river community. None of these interests should be singled out – for advantage or spurn. The proposal to exclude tubers from the club is ill-conceived; the city should dismiss it in favor of a more inclusive approach.

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