Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

17 Mar 2016

Bike ban on city land? Revision to Oxbow Plan proposes first hiker-specific trail

Posted by Adam Howell


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Bikes would be banned from the City’s new Oxbow Preserve under a proposed revision to the Oxbow Park and Preserve Management Plan that was recently offered by two members of the Natural Lands Board.

Photo courtesy of the City of Durango.

Photo courtesy of City of Durango.

Board members Steve Whiteman and Paul Wilbert floated the proposal as a compromise between conflicting management options that the board and members of the public have had difficulty in agreeing upon. The benefits of providing either year-round access, a seasonal closure or a year-round closure of the preserve have been debated by the Natural Lands Board throughout the past year.

Whiteman and Wilbert’s proposed revisions to the Management Plan would include a simple, single-track soft-surface trail following the perimeter of the Preserve that only hikers would be using, said Whiteman. Enhancements could also be made to the property, including the creation of a wetlands area, and the planting of trees, he said.

The loop trail in the Preserve would be open year round, but would exclude dogs, as well as bikes. Also, people would be prohibited from entering the land in the middle of the Preserve.

“I think it would not be compatible to have bikes just speeding through there while hikers are trying to appreciate the wildlife that are in there,” said Whiteman. “It would enlarge the trail to a point that I would rather not see.”

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The Preserve is currently closed to the public. Previously, the Natural Lands Board had asked the City to collect environmental data on the Preserve for a year starting this winter with it completely open so they could contrast it with data previously gathered from the site when it was closed.

An inventory of bird populations (MAPS) is being done once a year under guidance of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Currently, the study is trying to establish some kind of baseline for what the local or migratory bird population looks like in the Preserve, so that trends and changes can be better understood over as many as five or more years, according to Brian MaGee, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist.

Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz never opened the Preserve to the public this winter after City Councilor Sweetie Marbury disagreed with the idea and the Board had already voted to open it back up.

“I do think that this is little bit precedent setting,” said Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz. “We are not excluding uses on other trails in the system, and certainly we can have that conversation if it seems appropriate.”

“To ask us to enforce these rules can be challenging, and so I think actually having common sense, and people making good decisions just because they know it’s smart is a much better way to manage a system versus a lot of heavy rules that can be challenging to enforce,” said Metz.

This blogger and Jared Webster argued against the proposed bike ban. The city should trust that bikers would be respectful in the Preserve, said Webster.

“One of the main concerns was how can we develop this trail and make sure that it’s defined and people aren’t using other social trails,” said Webster. “I think that by allowing bikes on the trail it could do that.”

Board member Smith flip flops over user-specific trails

At Monday’s meeting, Natural Lands Board member Mark Smith flip-flopped his argument on whether or not the City should sanction user-specific trails on its lands from what he had said last year when the idea of bike-specific trails came up.

Snake Charmer Trail was built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers, but Mark Smith was against the idea of designating the trail as user specific back in January of 2015, when the Natural Surface Trails Report was being created.

Snake Charmer Trail was built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers to use, but Mark Smith was against the idea of designating the trail as user specific back in January of 2015, when the Natural Surface Trails Report was being created.

Smith, who served on the City’s Natural Surface Trails Committee, told the Natural Lands Board and the Parks and Recreation Board at a joint meeting in January of 2015 that creating a biker-specific trail would invite conflicts there among user groups.

“I think we need to be kind of careful about starting down a slippery slope,” said Smith. “I think Mary’s got an opinion you guys have probably heard, and I won’t speak for her, but I know that the situation exists in Boulder where they went down that road. You’ve got biking trails and hiking trails and horse trails and you got fights among all the groups about who is supposed to be on what trail. I think that that is the place where we need to be pretty careful.”

“The idea that if you’ve got a trail that is an extreme downhill trail used often by cyclists then I think it makes sense that there be some sort of warning to hikers–this is probably not a good idea, but you know, go for it, if you want, at your own risk,” said Smith.

“When you start segmenting the trails into specific use, I think you might lose control of that over time about–this is a bike trail, hikers aren’t supposed to be on it, this is a hiker trail, bikers aren’t supposed to be on it,” said Smith.

In contrast, when faced with the opportunity for the City to create a user-specific trail for hikers in Oxbow Preserve, Smith was all in favor of it of the idea at Monday’s meeting.

“I think you should have places where people can go for one thing and then people can go for another thing,” said Smith. “I think you need to be very careful about how often you do that, because it can get to be a circus if you don’t. I think Adam’s point is well founded. I disagree in this particular case. I think we should think about specific use in other areas, as well.”

“Adam’s objection here is similar to some of the objections that have been made earlier about some of the more radical or challenging mountain bike trails in town,” Smith said. “We’ve had this discussion about should we allow people to be walking up and down this trail, and it does diminish the experience for the people using the trail for the purpose that it was created for. I would suggest that we think about that again, because you can make a pretty good argument that if you’re going to exclude bikes here, why aren’t you giving us something somewhere else, and it’s going to come no matter whether I suggest it, or somebody else does.”

“I do have to say that I believe that a bicycle presence out here would change the character of the experience in such a way that it would detract from what’s going on,” noted Smith. “I say the same thing about people that are hiking on extreme mountain bike trails that the City has chosen to put on City property. We’re creating a precedent, and it could come back to haunt us in some ways, but I think it’s appropriate.”

A beach that the City of Durango now owns at Oxbow Park and Preserve sits empty.

A beach that the City of Durango now owns at Oxbow Park and Preserve sits empty.

Smith also voted with the Boards in 2014 to exclude inner tubers from Oxbow to 33rd Street as part of a Nature Paddling Trail, a meaningless designation contrived by the Boards as a way to appease angry neighbors who had inner tubers partying and pooping on their properties in years past. The Nature Paddling Trail, it turns out, has no legal authority thanks to three precedent-setting federal court cases where judges have ruled in favor of the public’s right to access the surface of navigable rivers at any point.

Before the Natural Lands Board votes on the bike ban in the revisions to the Oxbow Park and Preserve Management Plan, they intend on doing a site visit at the Preserve. After the site visit, and the Natural Lands Board votes, it will then be given to the Parks and Recreation Board to vote on, and after that, to the City Council to revisit and vote on.

People that are interested in submitting public comments on the proposed revisions are asked to send them to the City of Durango at rec@durangogov.org.

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