A compromise on allowing people into the Oxbow Park and Preserve is being floated by the city after officials closed the area in December.
The Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board is considering opening the perimeter trail of the 38- acre preserve year-round, but banning bikes and dogs, said Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
“What we’re trying to do is protect that wildlife habitat,” she said. But the board wants to balance that protection with good public access, she said.
“We are feeling as a community this is a special area and we should manage it different than our other open-space parcels,” she said.
The preserve, east of Animas View Drive along the Animas River, is home to 85 bird species, bobcat, deer, elk and other wildlife.
The trail into the preserve starts in the 6-acre Oxbow Park, southwest of the preserve. The park is open year-round and the city plans to build a boat ramp and parking lot for river users.
The city is not proposing a fence to keep people out of the interior of the preserve because it regularly floods and the fence would likely catch debris from the river, Metz said.
But the city would install new signs, and anyone caught trespassing could receive a fine, she said. The trail around the preserve would be closed during spring floods.
The preserve was scheduled to open this year and next year to study the impact of people on the birds. But it was closed after Durango City Councilor Sweetie Marbury raised concerns about people and dogs disturbing the wildlife.
For the last two years, the preserve was closed from Dec. 1 through June 30 to collect baseline data about birds. The Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board planned to compare data collected with the preserve open and closed to help make a decision about park management.
However, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Brian Magee told the Durango City Council in January that two years of data would not be enough to come to conclusions about how people were influencing the bird populations.
During that meeting, council asked the advisory board to look into long-term options for managing the preserve.
The board plans to visit the site before meeting to discuss on April 11 and potentially vote on it. The recommendation will be sent to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and then City Council. Metz hopes to have a final plan in place by June.
Even though the management of the park is likely changing, the bird research, now headed into its third year, will continue, Metz said.