On Thursday night, Oxbow Park was never more beautiful, as rare-blue water silently thrummed around the bend, sun-drenched amid quivering grasses.
Yet the idyllic site was never more contentious, as almost 70 people gathered just above the riverbank to listen to – and, as often, to argue against – Durango Parks & Recreation’s proposals to develop it.
DHM Design’s Ann Christensen, who is consulting on the city project, presented three designs, with their major difference being parking capacity. Each of the three proposals would entail paving the road to the riverbank, across the train tracks and beyond, creating a roundabout adjacent to the shore for drivers to drop off gear, children and boats.
Within seconds of the architectural mockups getting passed out, there was outcry.
“Where’s the option with no people driving down there?” one woman yelled, gesturing toward the riverbank.
“Where’s that option, Cathy?” echoed Susan Ulery, referring to Parks & Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
“That’s a possibility,” replied Christensen.
“Then where’s the drawing?” Ulery countered.
Christensen said the three drawings circulated were the product of a consensus-based process.
“This is not a consensus-based process! You said in the last meeting that there would be options, but you’re just doing what you want to do,” Ulery said
Christensen assured the crowd, “We hear you.”
“You always hear us!” said a third woman, Patricia Parker.
Passionate opposition came from neighboring residents who feel betrayed by the city’s planning process and fear the park’s development will subject their immediate neighborhood to noisy, beer-guzzling river rats from dawn till dusk, as well as inviting parking problems, litter and general ecological havoc.
“I’ve been to every one of these damn meetings,” Ulery said. “We want a paddling mecca where people can enjoy the birds and the river quietly, not a vehicle-centric development. We want to preserve the wetlands and the wildlife. But the city just refuses to acknowledge us. I’m refusing to play nice anymore. Every one of us has called our city councilor and sat down with parks and rec and written letters.
“They are going to make it just like Dallabetta (Park), below Home Depot. It’s brutal. Just the most sterile and icky of park things.”
Christensen told the crowd, “I take responsibility for not showing that fourth option. I took it as a given that that’s an option, thinking like a functioning planner. But you are right that needs to be drawn up,” she said.
She said in meetings with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad last week, executives said they would prefer if people didn’t park above the tracks and walk down to the water with their boats, as cars move more quickly than humans.
Another woman told the group, “I live on 33rd. Now, I support this. There’s probably going to be a smoke bomb in my house.”
At one point, tensions were so high, two commercial rafters joked that police had been called to the scene as Durango Police Department’s Ray Shupe, arriving a few minutes late, exited his car and joined the crowd.
Though in uniform, Shupe clarified his attendance stemmed from his interest in the issue.
John Parker, who lives above Oxbow Park, said residents had waited for the city to extend the Animas River Trail for 15 years. After five years of going to meetings about the park, Parker said the city pretends to listen, but “then it goes and does its own thing.”
Andy Corra, of Four Corners River Sports, said he thinks there is more common ground between the protesters and commercial rafters like himself. Because the water that runs by Oxbow Park is so still, most commercial rafting outfits aren’t interested in that stretch.
“My customers want whitewater,” he said.
But he said that his kayaking school has been interested in “paddling up here for years.”
Corra said there was room for common ground.
“The two opposing sides are talking past each other. I don’t want to see drunk rafters blasting their boom -boxes either,” he said. “But I do support driving access here, leaving as small an imprint as possible.”
Christensen said while some people who attended feel like they haven’t been listened to, “they have been.”
In original plans for Oxbow Park, she said, “the entire peninsula would have been totally developed. There’s an option of not doing anything, and I chose not to draw that option because consensus had already drawn to a reasonable conclusion.”
She made a plea for consensus: “A lot of people can get a lot of what they want, but not everybody can get everything that they want.”