Santa Rita could be an even better attraction, but we’re not there yet

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 11:00 AM
Courtesy City of Durango

The city’s Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility is taking shape next to U.S. Highway 550/160.

The proximity of the Animas River is a treasure for Durangoans as it winds its way through town, and at Santa Rita Park, there is an opportunity to make it an even greater part of the town’s lifestyle.

By relocating parking to the northern side of the park, parallel to and just below U.S. Highway 550-160, more of the usable park land can be near the river. It’s an expensive option, requiring existing pavement to be torn up and new pavement put in place, but given the park’s central location and popularity, it would be worth it.

Estimates are $5.7 million for the design that incorporates moving the parking and $3.2 million for the design that does not. As parking wraps around the west as well as the north sides of the park, a soccer field of any size will not be possible. Instead, small picnic areas, the relocated sculptures and the railroad locomotive would give the center grass area a more rounded shape.

Absent a large field, the park would be conducive to more smaller spaces for friends’ and families’ activities.

Sports areas would still be present. Sand volleyball areas, with lights, would be center stage along the river. A basketball court would be continued, as would the large picnic area shelter.

The former chamber of commerce building, now being used for staging the water-treatment plant construction, could or could not be eliminated to provide additional grass area. City recreation staff suggests that the building could be used to house the city’s child care and game-time activities.

One minor suggestion: In the design plan, the large picnic shelter is close to the relocated parking; perhaps the shelter should remain closer to the river for a more scenic setting.

A much more ambitious possibility, given that the Santa Rita Park size is so limited, would be to explore the possibility of using fill to extend the park a short distance into the Animas River. Currently, a channel separates a small island from the park, and there will be a significant amount of dirt available from a cut linking U.S. 550 to the interchange at Three Springs about two miles to the east.

While the San Francisco Bay area and Boston greatly benefited from creating fill ground, a quick pencil may show that that is not economical for Santa Rita Park. But, there is plenty of precedent for intruding on the river’s natural flow, given the work done in recent years to create a more exciting whitewater park.

As the water-treatment plant will not be completed until 2019, the city is saying that park construction will not occur until 2020. That is frustrating. Santa Rita Park was very popular prior to the construction of the new treatment plant, and it will be even more heavily used as soon as it is available.

Will the park be odor-free?

Should any work on the park be postponed until the park can be subjected to a smell test?

We have to side with the engineers who say the technology that is being included in the new treatment plant will not intrude on the park’s usage, but this gives us pause.

We urge the city in the coming months to adopt a park plan which will put park users closer to the river and their automobiles closer to the highway. Santa Rita Park, if everything turns out correctly, will be a smaller but even greater attraction.