It has been interesting to watch the unfolding drama associated with proposed recreation development of the Oxbow area on the Animas River. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department desires to expand the use of the Animas River beyond the 33rd Street put-in, and the concurrent efforts of a small group of boaters to expand recreation on the river from Bakers Bridge to the state line, is creating unnecessary conflict.
Evaluating how people use the Animas River is, in itself, a worthy cause. With unchecked expansion of the commercial recreation and the selling of Durango as a recreational mecca, you have to expect that conflicts will occur.
The Animas is a beautiful asset to La Plata County and serves not only as a recreational haven but is critical for wildlife and protection of what makes La Plata County so special. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar thought so much of the importance of rivers that he instituted a program to proposed and establish, through the U.S. National Park Service, the Blueways and Paddleways river recreation programs on various rivers across the country.
Aside from one example where the process was resident-led, each attempt has resulted in failure because of lack of adequate coordination, discussion and understanding among the landowners, wildlife agencies, government managers and the public. After the hearings and public floggings over the Blueways program, the current Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, quietly has put the entire river recreation development program on indefinite hold.
Before the city and Parks and Recreation Department push off this river-development project, it would be wise to take a step back, integrate the county, the Southern Ute Tribe and the public in an open process that looks at not only development in the Oxbow area, but also the bigger picture of determining the carrying capacity for recreation on the river and what values, besides paddling, does the public want the Animas River to support. Transparency and an open process that protects public and private property rights is the right line to take with the Animas.
David L. Wegner