The big picture
City looks ahead to next 10 years as it updates Parks, Trails, Open Space & Rec plan
Where there used to be an old uranium-processing site along the Animas River, the city now has trails, frolicking dogs and anglers. Instead of dumping waste down the river, rafts take visitors and locals down by the thousands. Instead of old mining and oil and gas roads, the hills are criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails.
With the current economy and the community relying so heavily on outdoor recreation, it’s not surprising how important public input is to the city’s Parks, Trails, Open Space and Recreation Master Plan.
“This master plan is really the guiding document for the future,” Cathy Metz, Director for Durango’s Parks and Recreation Department, said.
Every 10 years, the city takes the time to update what’s called the POSTR Master Plan. The first one, approved in 2001, was called the Parks, Open Space and Trails plan, or POST, and didn’t include recreation. That category was added in during the first update in 2010, turning the POST into the POSTR plan.
The second update kicks off this week with a Community Forum at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, at the Durango Rec Center. City officials rely on public input because, according to Metz, it’s really the community’s plan.
Besides hosting the kick-off, city officials recently hired PROS Consulting, based in Indianapolis, to help with the update. PROS has worked on hundreds of municipal planning projects across the United States, including Durango’s 2010 POSTR Plan.
Representatives from the company will lead the kick-off event and, according to Metz, have a lot of questions for residents. After all, the city isn’t the same as it was even 10 years ago. “There’s so much that has changed,” Metz said.
From Durango Mesa Park to Lake Nighthorse, some of the key locations in Durango’s outdoor future weren’t even ideas a decade ago.
For example, during the 2010 update, Lake Nighthorse was still filling up with water, discussions about recreation at
the lake were just beginning, and city officials were not planning on running the property.
Instead, the suggestion was to “encourage other agencies to develop future facilities to meet the community’s needs,” according to the 2010 Master Plan.
All these years later, the city is the official caretaker. And, although the lake is still not open – much to the dismay of locals – it is going to be a part of Durango’s recreational and open space future.
Another big change is Durango Mesa Park. Marc Katz, founder of Mercury Payment Systems, and his family bought 1,850 acres at the southeastern end of Durango on what was historically called Ewing Mesa. They’ve donated 200 acres of that property to La Plata County to be not only the new home for the county fairgrounds, but a hub for outdoor events, festivals and tournaments.
Visions of the mesa’s future include an outdoor concert venue, equestrian facilities, new hiking and biking trails, a BMX track, community gardens, picnic areas, and a sports complex.
It’s that last one city officials are particularly interested in. Something, Metz said, the city is lacking. “We need more turf grass facilities,” she added.
Additional sports fields were part of the 2010 plan, but it’s one thing the city wasn’t able to accomplish.
Back then, the idea was to use 75 acres in Three Springs, dedicated as community park space by the developers, to build more sports fields. However, construction in the neighborhood stalled after the recession, and those plans never came to fruition.
With Durango Mesa Park now in the picture, Metz said, the city could turn to that area for the much-needed sports fields.
Those are the kinds of things she and others working on the update want to hear from the community. “Is that still the direction we’d like to go?” she asked.
The sports fields might be one of the top needs for the city, but it’s not the only one. Other ideas first envisioned in 2010, which Metz said residents continue to express interest in, include an outdoor swimming pool, year-round ice rink and a second recreation facility in addition to the Durango Rec Center.
One of the 2010 projects that did see the finish line is the new gymnastics facility in Bodo Park, which was a key community recommendation a decade ago. The question now becomes, what does the city do with the old gym at the Mason Center? Metz said the center is at the end of its
useful life, but the city doesn’t have a plan for its future. It’s something else to consider while updating the Master Plan.
Another success story for the 2010 Master Plan is better connectivity of the trail system surrounding Durango.
The Animas River Trail, for example, has been extended on the north end near 32nd Street and Memorial Park. At the south, the city continues to work on the SMART 160 Trail Connection. Parts of the trail are in, it’s just a matter of linking them up to existing trails in the Grand-view and Three Springs area, and finding a feasible way for the trail to cross Highway 160.
The city has also added miles and miles of natural surface trails, including the expansion of the trail systems at Twin Buttes and Overend Mountain Park. It hasn’t, however, connected those two systems, which is a project residents have continued to express interest in.
Metz said they’ve got a lot of ideas, but what they’re looking for is guidance and direction.
The addition of properties – and possibilities – like Durango Mesa Park, Lake Nighthorse and the now-empty Mason Center have changed the landscape of outdoor activity options in Durango. This is another reason, Metz said, now’s the time to start updating the city’s Parks, Open Space, Trails and Recreation Master Plan.