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Pickleball, trails and ski hill top City's 2024 fun (and not so fun) budget

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New pickleball courts are being constructed at Schneider Park and will be ready for the masses in 2024./ Photo by Missy Votel

Jonathan Romeo - 12/07/2023

Ah, budget season – a time when most of us run and stick our heads in the sand. That is, unless, we’re talking about all the fun new projects the City of Durango’s Parks & Recreation Department has in store for 2024.

Durango city councilors approved the 2024 budget Dec. 5, and we thought it’d be fun to take a peek at all the projects the city hopes to start or complete in the coming year as it pertains to our outdoor adventures.

And there’s no lack of planned projects. Improvements to the Animas River Trail? A new dog park, disc golf course and bike trails? Upgraded tow ropes at Chapman? Sign us up!

And pickleball. How could we forget pickleball? (We didn’t.)

Anyway, here we go. (*For the sake of brevity, we rounded cost estimates and left out some smaller projects.)

• Smart 160 Trail – $3.2M: Will 2024 be the year the City of Durango finally reaches an agreement with a private property owner to, once and for all, connect the Animas River Trail to Three Springs? Turns out, no one knows, but the City is setting aside money in its budget should the stars finally align.

Since its inception, the Animas River Trail was planned to connect the north end of town, near Oxbow, south to Three Springs.

The connection to Oxbow was completed in 2020, leaving the final stretch, from behind Home Depot to Three Springs, as the final piece of the puzzle. For years, however, the City has been trying to work out the details with a private property owner to cross his land.

“We feel like we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet,” Scott McClain, the city’s Assistant Parks Director, said.

The good news: the landowner is supportive of the trail and wants to get it done. The complications: the landowner also wants to make sure the trail crossing through his property won’t hamper any future development on his land.

McClain said the City has done its part looking at alternative alignments and plans. Now, city staff are waiting for the landowner to submit his own engineering and design plans that would better suit his needs. Unfortunately, there’s no timeline on when that’ll happen.

“He wants to make sure he can get road access to all parts of the parcel,” McClain said. “He’s putting in a lot of effort and energy. It really feels like we’re headed in the right direction; there’s just a lot of challenges in that corridor.”

• Outdoor Pickleball Courts – $1.9M: Oh, pickleball – who would have thought a game with a little paddle and perforated plastic ball would generate such a furor?

Regardless, the City of Durango heeded impassioned requests from pickleballers, directing nearly $2 million to build three courts at Schneider Park. Construction began this year and is about halfway done, McClain said. The City allocated money in 2024 to finish the project.

“We’re on schedule at this point,” McClain said.

Durango’s not the only town in the crosshairs of people demanding pickleball courts as the sport explodes in popularity. Take this quote we found from a New York Post article titled, “Pickleball is wreaking havoc across the US – and it’s only going to get worse.”

“I’ve had to go over to our recreational sports center and tell 70-year-old men: ‘If you threaten to hit our sports center director with the paddle again, I’m going to kick you out,’” Chuck Line, the city manager in Glendale, Colo., told the Post.

• Durango Mesa Park – $2M: Durango Mesa Park burst into public view this year with the unveiling of some new mountain bike trails adjoining Horse Gulch. In 2024, the City of Durango has set aside funds to hopefully start construction on the Ewing Mesa Road as well as a new bike park, disc golf course and dog park.

• Chapman Hill – $3.1M: This project has been in the works for a while and looks like it will finally break ground in 2024. In all, the City of Durango will replace the small and large tow ropes, as well as install an entire new lighting system for the small ski area, which offers night skiing. When complete, the two rope tows at Chapman will be on the edges of the hill, opening up more of the middle area for skiing and jibbing.

• Lake Nighthorse – $1.6M: Ever been stuck in traffic trying to turn into Lake Nighthorse? Yeah, you’re not alone.

The City of Durango will attempt to address safety concerns on CR 210 by reconfiguring traffic lanes that should increase space for cars inside the entrance station. The city will also install a small, dual-windowed booth to increase efficiency of entrance pass sales.

Also, funds will be dedicated for a new building for watercraft decontamination equipment, office space and shop space to store lake equipment. And, the City will improve decontamination infrastructure and build a vault toilet to replace the portapotty.

• Animas River Trail: Hey, who doesn’t love bumping over asphalt and irreparably damaging their wrists? No one, that’s who! That’s why the City of Durango, for years, has been replacing old asphalt sections of the trail with concrete.

Some sections the City hopes to address in 2024: 

$1.1M: South of Santa Rita Park to the intersection of CR210 and South Camino del Rio. Here, it was determined that the pedestrian bridge south of Santa Rita Park needs replacement. Design work is in process, and it will likely will be addressed in 2025.

$1.5 million: South of Albertsons to the north side of the Durango Wastewater Plant.

$638,000: Demon Bridge replacement design study. (The City expects the bridge replacement, as well as the conversion of the asphalt trail from Demon Bridge to 29th Street to concrete, to begin in 2025.

• Rec Center – $210,000: In 2024, the City of Durango plans to replace the gym facility roof at an estimated cost of $100,000 and replace fitness equipment (specifically spin bikes and cardio) at an estimated cost of $110,000.

• Parks, trails and rec – $280,000: The City of Durango recently finished a comprehensive evaluation of all its parks, identifying necessary improvements and developing a priority list. This year, the City has about $280,000 to start addressing some of those needs, McClain said.

Projects include: replacing the roof on the pavilion at Rotary Park; irrigation work at Brookside Park; improving the shelter at Lion’s Den; and renovations at Ryler Park.

“They’re all fairly small maintenance projects, but things that need to be taken care of and done,” McClain said.

• Parks, open space and trails - $243,000: These funds are used for things like trail maintenance, signs, fire mitigation, weed control and erosion control. McClain said the funds are split between trails that clearly need some work done, as well as trails that are affected by things like overuse or a weather event.

• Greenmount Cemetery - $2M: Well, this doesn’t necessarily fall into the “fun” category, but, you know, we all gotta face the music some day. And, when we do, we damn sure want the turf above our plots to look nice.

Greenmount Cemetery’s irrigation system is terribly outdated, McClain said. It’s not automatic, so a staff person has to go around the 40-acre cemetery all day turning on and off water lines. And, as a result, the system is only turned on during the day – the worst time to water grass.

The $2 million project will install an automated irrigation system, which will open up that staff person’s time and actually save the city money in the long run, McClain said. The price tag is driven up a bit, because, well, there are some obstacles underground you definitely don’t want to run into. ?

Pay to play

The City of Durango will be improving conditions on the Animas River Trail by replacing old asphalt sections, such as the one behind the Double Tree Hotel, with concrete. / Photo by Missy Votel