What a wonderful time of year to be in Durango!
City council has worked hard throughout June and made significant progress on a number of important projects. I’m very optimistic that our efforts will pay off in ways that make Durango an ever better place to live and work for all of us.
Summer months bring endless opportunities to be outside and active, enjoying our community. So it’s not surprising that a hot topic for Council during the past several months has revolved around one of our most highly valued Parks and Recreation amenities, the Animas River Trail.
The ART is the backbone of our community, connecting residents and visitors to parks, open space, our community recreation center, the library, neighborhoods and schools.
The city is working hard to complete additional trail segments that will eventually provide for full connectivity from Oxbow Park to Three Springs. Several new segments are currently underway.
Most residents know the extension of the ART from Animas City Park north to Oxbow Park has started, with a budget of $5.8 million in place. Completion of this segment (expected in September of 2020) will be a huge accomplishment, given that it was proposed over a decade ago.
How this segment should be connected to the current ART remains a topic of community debate.
Proponents of a new trail bridge connector over the Animas River and 32nd Street cite advantages to trail users in terms of safety, aesthetics, enjoyment, and staying true to the overall ART vision of seamless trail connectivity.
Opponents cite the estimated additional $3.4 million required to build the bridges, and suggest that the current at-grade crossing at 32nd street is satisfactory.
The debate boils down to prioritization, since other pressing Parks and Recreation projects also require funding.
City council has decided to complete the design process, which will provide a more accurate cost projection for the two bridges, and then evaluate further.
The design process for a second, critically important trail segment connecting the ART to downtown Durango via a safe crossing of Camino del Rio is also moving forward.
SET Engineering is analyzing the feasibility of overpasses, underpasses and at-grade crossings of Camino del Rio between 7th and 12th streets. Many residents vocalize strong support for prioritizing this project, calling it a win-win for business owners, workforce and both locals and tourists who want to shop, dine and access services of all kinds downtown.
The third segment underway is the SMART 160 Trail, extending the hard surface trail system to Three Springs.
The city is already constructing sections of that extension, including a recently completed underpass at Escalante Drive.
The city is also negotiating with three property owners for easements through private property for additional sections that are in line for future project prioritization.
The ART will remain a work in progress because, in addition to new construction, we continually evaluate sections of the current trail that need work.
Each project, whether new-build or maintenance of existing trail segments, must be ranked during the annual prioritization process that begins with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and includes a public input process.
After considering facts, figures, expert opinions and public input related to the many projects competing for Parks and Recreation funding dollars, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will make recommendations to city council on how money might best be spent. Council then makes final decisions.
Some elements of the ART will no doubt take more time than others and will require patience from all of us who are eager to see the trail system completed as quickly as possible from Oxbow Park to Three Springs!
Another prized outdoor amenity under the purview of the city of Durango – Durango annexed it into the city so that city resources are available for improvements – is Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area, which opened to the public April 1, 2018, and after that saw over 48,000 visitors in the remaining months of that year.
This year, the city, in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, is developing an ADA fishing dock and boat launch, as well as picnic facilities. These improvements, scheduled for completion this summer, will improve accessibility for all users.
After decades in the making, Lake Nighthorse now provides yet another unique place for Durangoans to gather and enjoy these beautiful Colorado summer days!
Outdoor amenities are a big part of Durango’s special and unique identity. With water being the new “gold,” Durango is rich in resources!
Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.