City officials finally cut the ribbon Friday afternoon on Horse Gulch, pledging to keep the popular open space park preserved for users of many breeds.
This really is Durangos Central Park, Durango Mayor Michael Rendon said in a short speech commemorating the preservation of 1,300 acres southeast of town. And what makes it so special is the variety of users who use it.
About 40 people attended the short ribbon-cutting ceremony, including eight on horseback. City councilors Christina Thompson and Doug Lyon attended the ceremony, hiking with a mixed-breed dog named Baxter and riding a mountain bike, respectively.
The horse riders were there to make a point. They asked gathered officials to consider allowing horses in the gulch.
We feel this issue should definitely be discussed. A place like this just lends itself well to horses, said Bob Volger, from his horse.
The Durango Code of Ordinances forbids horses on city property and parks. Horses are allowed on county roads, like the one that accesses Horse Gulch and led to the ceremony, as well as on nearby Bureau of Land Management land. But they are not free to take the singletrack trails that snake around the desert meadows and ridgelines of Horse Gulch.
City officials seemed all but certain the issue will be worked out amicably.
Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz said the city will begin work on a Horse Gulch master plan shortly.
Motorized vehicles are banned in Horse Gulch, and Metz hinted it likely will remain that way.
The city now owns more than 1,300 acres in Horse Gulch, including a large portion of the Telegraph Trail system accessible from town. The land is habitat for mule deer, elk, mountain lions and snakes, and it was used by the public for decades before the city began scooping up parcels ahead of development.
The city has purchased more than 1,100 acres since 1997 and 945 acres in the last 18 months. The land is held in conservation easements.
A 200-acre parcel on Raider Ridge was dedicated to the city by Skyridge Village development.
The remainder of the land cost $4 million, with 42 percent of the cost covered by grants from the states Department of Local Affairs.
The citys share of the cost $2.3 million comes from a fund established for purchasing open space. The money in the fund comes from a half-cent city sales tax approved by voters in 2005.
Parks, Open Space and Trails Development Manager Kevin Hall said that, in a way, the recession is responsible for the spate of acquisitions in Horse Gulch.
Having a fund dedicated to the purchase of open space gives Durango an advantage over its competitors for grant money, Hall said. With other cities in Colorado fighting steep cutbacks, Hall said Durango has been able to assert itself as a stable partner.