As the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, Durango looked to open space and parks as a way to preserve the community's "quality of life."
Despite having had parks since 1880, pressure was building for more land and more open space. Durangoans were showing definite signs of being more outdoors- and recreation-oriented than the average urban dweller.
At the same time, the City Council rather neglected the future by frequently accepting monetary payments from developers in lieu of land for parks as new subdivisions opened. In the short run, this would hurt such subdivisions as Riverview and Easter Heights.
On a positive note, and looking to the future, the City Council on Dec. 2, 1969, passed a resolution "authorizing the filing of an application for grants to acquire and develop open space land." The land "is to be held and used as permanent open space land for parks, and recreation."
Durangoans had much to gain by such a step, despite the fears of some of the traditional "againers." Since World War II, the town had grown, and some residents were now worried about "over crowding" and loss of the lifestyle that had made the community such an attractive and enjoyable place to live.
However, an effort to develop a park at the new Riverview Elementary School property was shut down in October 1970. The school board felt a park at Needham Elementary School was "the only one they were in a position to enter a long term lease on and that they were willing to sign a 25-year agreement on that property." In December 1970, an agreement was signed with the school district to "construct a public park and recreation area" at the school.
By July 1973, the park was ready. A backstop had been erected, and softball games were being played. "Fire pits and park benches are installed and it is hoped to lay the new mat on the tennis courts sometime around the middle of August."
Golfers cheered in December 1966 when Durango purchased back 12½ acres from Fort Lewis College for an 18-hole golf course. Now there was something they could appreciate, something that would definitely improve the quality of life, at least for them. It would be a while, however, before more than nine holes challenged Durangoans.
Some Durangoans, having acquired snowmobiles, decided city parks would be the perfect place to gain some traveling experience.
The City Council responded to this by posting signs ending the practice. City policy, henceforth, would be. "No snowmobiles or other vehicles were to be allowed" in the parks," (April 4, 1972).
Then came the bicyclists, who appeared before the council on May 16, 1972, concerning safe riding.
A group calling itself The Non-motorized Path Committee asked for promotion of safe bicycle traffic in Durango's urban areas.
Its immediate concern was provisions for a bike path along Florida Road between Riverview and Third Avenue.
The council quickly responded on June 6 and approved a bike/foot path. "A four-foot sidewalk on the river side as well as a five-foot path on portions of that side and a five foot path on the hillside would be built along Florida Road and Third Avenue."
Not all citizens were happy with the pace or location of these developments. A group protested the location of "comfort stations" in one park. Another tried to save the pond at Easter Heights, which the city planned to fill. All that group accomplished was to get the council to agree to "not fill the pond immediately."
It was taking a while, with a few bumps and bruises along the way, but Durango and Durangoans were gaining understanding for the need for and the value of parks and open space.
In the next 20 years, the numbers of parks and acres for open space would dwarf anything that had happened previously.
Duane Smith is a Fort Lewis College history professor. Reach him at 247-2589.