Oxbow Park and Preserve has been closed for about a month because of construction, but that isn’t stopping people from going in, eliciting complaints from adjacent homeowners and calls to the police.
“People just don’t care that it’s closed,” said Susan Ulery, who lives near the park. “They figure they’re entitled to be down there no matter what.”
Oxbow Park and Preserve is a 44-acre area along 1.7 miles of the Animas River in north Durango, with most of the land, about 38 acres, dedicated as a natural preserve for wildlife habitat.
There is, however, a boat ramp to access the Animas River and a beach where people can hang out.
For the past year, the city of Durango has been improving access to Oxbow. Around mid-April, the park was closed so crews could finish construction on a portion of the project.
“There was just no route we could provide to enter safely, so we had to close all public access,” said Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
But people haven’t been taking the closure seriously.
“The weather’s nice, it’s warmer out and people want to get into the park system,” Metz said. “But we are obviously most concerned about public safety and people going through an active construction site.”
With the main entrance closed, people have been trespassing through private property, creating a headache for residents adjacent the park.
Ulery said she spent $75 on no trespassing signs and metal posts to put up around her yard. Still, she sees a constant stream of people heading down to the beach, many times with open containers.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” she said.
Amy Hewitt, whose property abuts the park, said she, too, had to put up no trespassing signs, which has yet to stop the flow of foot traffic.
“As a homeowner, it’s tiring to constantly have to go out and steer people away,” she said. “But they usually continue up the road to find a spot they can cut through.”
Durango Police Department Cmdr. Jacob Dunlop said officers have responded to several calls at Oxbow since the closure. No citations have been written, with officers preferring instead to educate people that the park is closed to public access.
Dunlop added that Durango police have reallocated staffing to allow more officers to patrol city parks, including Oxbow, as well as the Animas River Trail, as more people visit those areas with the warmer weather.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some more proactive controls in there to deter people from being in there,” he said.
Metz also said the city tried to improve its signage at the construction site.
“We’ve put a lot of notification signs that it’s closed,” she said.
The city of Durango purchased Oxbow Park and Preserve in 2012, and for years, nearby residents have worried that providing access to the preserve would turn it into a party area.
As it stands, it is hard to get to Oxbow: There is no parking lot, and the main road to the park, Animas View Drive, was constructed before it was annexed into Durango and not built to city code, and therefore cannot accommodate parking.
“It’s been very difficult for the community to get access by driving to Oxbow, it simply didn’t exist,” Metz said. “People have gotten parking tickets by parking on Animas View Drive or on private lots.”
The city of Durango is aiming to complete construction this summer, which will provide access to the park, but nearby residents fear the trespassing issue is a harbinger of more problems.
A sliver of the area is for river access and a beach, but most of the land is a preserve, with a robust wildlife population. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, along with the city, started a bird study because of the diverse species.
Many trespassers, nearby residents say, are drinking and partying at the beach. And, many people walk their dogs into the preserve area of Oxbow, which is prohibited because pets can harass bird nests.
“The disturbing thing is people don’t respect what the area is about,” Ulery said. “It’s not there as a party beach. It’s a preserve, and the public doesn’t get that.”
Opening the park, Hewitt said, will hopefully stop people from crossing private property. She constantly deals with people using her property to unload tubes, kayaks and canoes to get onto the Animas River.
“We understand they want access to the river, but we’d wish they had the patience for the park to open,” she said.
By May 22, the city hopes to complete the portion of the project that has Oxbow closed, Metz said, at which point, the park will be reopened. But the parking lot won’t be finished until sometime this summer.
No more closures will be necessary, Metz said.
The Animas River Trail north extension, which will connect the popular trail from 32nd Street to Oxbow, is also expected to be completed later this summer, which will provide additional access.
“We’re getting close,” Metz said. “It’ll be open and this will all be a distant memory.”
Nearby residents hope trespassing issues will be a distant memory, too.
“It’s a privilege to live here,” Ulery said, “but it comes at a price.”