Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

3 Feb 2022

Overend Conservation Easement misinformation again presented to city boards over eMTBs

Posted by Adam Howell


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Overend Mountain Park is an open space area with trails, natural beauty, and wildlife that makes Durango such a great place to live. It’s also important to understand the history of this area, and what the founders of this park had in mind when it was transferred from private to public ownership.

Overend Mountain Park Conservation Easement misrepresented

Amy Schwarzbach

That history has been distorted by City officials since the year 2017.

Secondly, it happened at the November, 2019 joint advisory board meeting about electrical assisted bicycles.

Then, it was misrepresented again at the February 2, 2022 joint advisory board meeting about the trial period for electrical assisted bicycles at Twin Buttes open space area.

Misinformation was included with the presentation about the trial period.

Specifically, in a slide about Regulation Consistency, the content of the Overend Mountain Park Conservation Easement was misrepresented.

In particular, there were two sentences of a bullet point that are questionable. Here’s what it says:

“Horse Gulch, Overend and Dalla trails are located on conservation easements. The addition of e-bike use on these conservation easements is subject to approval of amendment.”

Overend Conservation Easement misrepresented in slide

From the Feb. 2, 2022 joint board meeting.

Indeed, Horse Gulch, Overend and Dalla Mountain Park are mostly located on conservation easements. However, it is suspicious to say that allowing e-bikes at Overend Mountain Park would require an amendment to its conservation easement.

Schwarzbach said that she was simply relaying information from La Plata Open Space Conservancy about the conservation easement.

Contrarily, the Overend Mountain Park Conservaton Easement acknowledges the historical use of bikes on the property. At the same time, it does not prohibit motorized vehicles for recreational uses.

Overend Conservation Easement posted here

For your own education, please read the Overend Mountain Park Conservation Easement here. If there’s another conservation easement that’s missing, please bring it to my attention and I will include it here.

19951212 Overend Mountain Park CE RN 698481

20010327 Overend Mountain Park Amended CE Deed RN 802684



Overend Mountain Park Conservation Easement misinformation began in 2017

Beginning in 2017, city staff said publicly that all conservation easements held for its lands prohibit motorized vehicles there. Staff provides this misinformation while the boards are discussing how to manage ebikes on natural surface trails.

During a Natural Lands Board meeting in May of 2017, previous Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz failed to accurately portray the Overend conservation easements. At the time, I asked the board why the LPOSC gets to define what a motorized vehicle is. 18:50

“It does say in all of our easements that motorized vehicles are not permitted,” replied Metz.

It is unclear why Metz began this narrative in 2017, or if she had actually forgotten about the language in the conservation easements for Overend Mountain Park.

Metz acknowledged wording of Overend conservation easements in 2016

It’s a change in narrative from what Metz had told the Natural Lands Board and the Parks and Recreation Board in October and November of 2016. At those 2016 meetings, she said that the conservation easements for Overend Mountain Park were silent about prohibiting motorized uses.

Former Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.

“If you look at the large open space parcels–Dalla Mountain Park, Overend Mountain Park, Horse Gulch–where a lot of our natural surface trails currently exist, there is specific language in the conservation easements that specifically prohibits motorized use. The only easement that does not state that directly is the Overend Mountain Park,” Metz told the Natural Lands Board. “That was our very first conservation easement. It does reference, however, the management plan, and the management plan currently states in several locations, no motorized vehicles.”

“We have conservation easements on most of our open space that has trails. Those conservation easements specifically prohibit motorized use. That would apply to the trail system in Horse Gulch in total. It would apply to Dalla Mountain Park. However, Overend Mountain Park was the very first conservation easement we did. It did not specifically prohibit motorized vehicles at Overend,” Metz told the Parks and Recreation Board. “However, in the management plan that we have adopted, it is very specific for non-motorized use only. But it is not in the conservation easement.”


Conservation easements reviewed by city, then withheld from board members

Public officials repeatedly justify prohibiting ebikes from Durango’s natural surface trails because of the conservation easements that regulate the management of those lands. Throughout this debate, however, the city has failed to share some of these conservation easements with board members. This, despite Metz having said that they reviewed them.

Former Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.

“We, of course, have reviewed our conservation easements, which are on all of our large land holdings,” Metz said at an October, 2016 Natural Lands Board meeting. 37:05

Despite Metz having reviewed those conservation easements, the documents were unavailable when Seth Furtney and I previously asked her and Joanne Gantt for copies of these documents. Furtney is on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

I was at a 2016 Natural Lands Board meeting where Metz said that the conservation easements for Overend Mountain Park are silent on motorized vehicles.

In the following years, I heard Metz, Schwarzbach and former Natural Lands Board Chairman Mark Smith say that the conservation easements all prohibited motorized vehicles.

“They’re motorized vehicles. That’s the issue. We’re going to be true to what we’ve been trying to do from the beginning. And the conservation easements speak to it,” Smith said at the Natural Lands Board meeting in March of 2020. “Then we can’t just blow it off and say, ‘well people like ebikes, so let’s let them on the trails now.”

Consequently, as a result of what these public officials said, I believed them and even relayed this information as fact. Subsequently, I am trying to correct this factual inaccuracy.

Adam Howell is a writer who is a member of Durango’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. His views do not represent those of the rest of the board. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.


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2 Responses to “Overend Conservation Easement misinformation again presented to city boards over eMTBs”

  1. I would add to this discussion that the state of Colorado issued definitive laws defining electrical assisted bicycles (EABs) in legislation HB-1171 signed on April 4. 2017:

    SECTION 5. In Colorado Revised Statutes, 42-4-1412, A PERSON MAY RIDE A CLASS 1 OR CLASS 2 ELECTRICAL
    ASSISTED BICYCLE ON A BIKE OR PEDESTRIAN PATH WHERE BICYCLES ARE AUTHORIZED TO TRAVEL

    The Conservation Easements on city owned public lands routinely contain rights reserved to the Grantor (City of Durango) typically including “recreational uses of the property which includes such activities as walking, hiking, bicycling… providing such activities are in no way commercial”. Since the Conservation Easements are filed within the state of Colorado, it is thus unclear if these Conservation Easements prohibit Class 1 or Class 2 EABs.

     

    Seth Furney

  2. We should be following the guidance of HB-1171 and how they’ve defined the jurisdiction of electrical assisted bicycles.

    Meanwhile, the public officials should be providing the boards with these conservation easements so they can see what it is that LPOSC is talking about. Why are we letting a city official filter the communications from LPOSC regarding these conservation easements? We need a more direct line to them and we need more specific explanations about the conservation easement language. More importantly, we need to learn to interpret the language of these conservation easements for ourselves without the interpretation of a former Executive Director for La Plata Open Space Conservancy.

    If anyone wants to read the rest of these conservation easements, they can be found with a search on the right side-bar of this blog.

     

    Adam Howell

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