A group of students, public officials and concerned citizens brought historical perspective and ideas for preserving open space in Horse Gulch to an educational event Wednesday night. Also, public comments from the audience included widespread opposition towards the proposed Grandview connection. [Ewing Mesa Map with trails]
The proposal t0 build a road from Ewing Mesa to Grandview, by crossing Grandview Ridge and Big Canyon, was most recently championed by (former) County Commissioner Kellie Hotter and (former) County Manager Shawn Nau.
Hosted by the Appleseed Series and the Sustainability Alliance, the event at Fort Lewis College gathered a variety of experts focusing on local sustainability. Panelists including County Manager Shawn Nau, Parks, Open Space and Trails Development Manager Kevin Hall, Trails 2000 Director Mary Monroe, and students Chad Goodale and James Foerster, who have studied the issue extensively, all spoke about the open space and transportation issues at hand surrounding Horse Gulch.
Working to moderate the discussion was Professor Brad Clark, who opened the meeting with his own perspective on smart growth.
“As I stated a few weeks ago, I was quoted in the Telegraph by saying that growth in the Durango area may be indeed be inevitable,” Clark said. “And I take this idea from Commissioner Wally White, who has been very helpful in meeting with my classes and giving us information. He said in one of our conversations, ‘Brad, cities have to grow in order to survive. That’s just a reality.’ That’s a very aptly astute observation. I countered that with yes, growth may be inevitable, but bad growth isn’t. Or traditional methods and traditional models of growth development don’t have to be inevitable. And I’m thinking along the lines that the way we’ve addressed transportation problems historically was to build more roads, to build more lanes. When are we going to start thinking outside the box, and start looking at other priorities, at other forms of transportation?”
Speaking in favor of the Grandview connection, County Manager Shawn Nau reiterated his concern that if the 35-acre parcels on Ewing Mesa were sold off, it would be next to impossible to secure the connecting road easement. He also said that a Grandview connection would provide incentive for the developer to abandon the 35-acre parcels and seek out higher density parcels, which would then be focused along the Ewing Mesa road. Further, Nau said, the Grandview connection would provide an alternative ingress route to the hospital in the event that a hazardous spill on US 160 shut the entire highway down.
Kevin Hall, the development manager for parks, open space and trails, spoke about how community interest has shaped the preservation of open space parcels in the Horse Gulch area through sales tax revenues and also through grants from Greater Outdoors Colorado.
Highlighting the happiness that trails bring to the lives of Durangoans, Trails 2000 Director Mary Monroe gave some background of how property and easements were secured for their construction and preservation, especially the most recent easement along Raiders Ridge and leading up to it from the north.
“But when you think about Horse Gulch, and you talk about it as our central park of New York, if you think about it, there’s not one sign that says entering Horse Gulch,” she said.
“There’s not a parking lot, and there’s not a major trailhead, and there’s not any bathrooms,” Monroe said. “I’m not casting stones at anyone. I’m just saying, maybe this is an opportunity, too, when we think about Horse Gulch development. Maybe there’s a way to even move the trailhead and figure out a way to allow easier access for children and elderly people to get into Horse Gulch.”
A student who studied the Horse Gulch in Brad Clark’s, Chad Goodale, an Environmental Studies Major at FLC, gave thought to preserving Horse Gulch through a means other than outright purchasing. Goodale studied three historical features of the Gulch, which included the Horse Gulch Road, the Telegraph line poles extending up towards Telegraph pass, and the Cummins Family Quarry. Goodale talked about his ongoing efforts to get the quarry on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, which could occur after an FLC official signs a finalizing document.
Working to study the City and County’s 2030 TRIP Report in Brad Clark’s class was James Foerster, who is also an Environmental Studies Major.
“Do we really need a road like this when we could possibly be using the $42.5 million dollars to look into new public transportation for the city and the county,” Foerster said. “We do have the T, but I think it could definitely be better. The 2030 TRIP should be revised to reflect the current socioeconomic growth and statistics of La Plata County in the post economic recession.”
High Lama Lane resident and Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Services Director, Paul Gibson, attended the meeting, saying that the idea of having the road as a bypass to the hospital in the event of a hazardous materials shutdown of US 160 doesn’t make sense to emergency service providers, given that the argument could be used for building a road anywhere. It would be more relevant to argue for the road based on the need to support the development, since that’s what the road’s main purpose would serve, he said.
“But if you’re going to try to scare people with, oh my god, you’re not going to get to the hospital in that golden hour, and yes, we will have a loved one, that’s where people start getting turned off a little bit,” Gibson said. “So I would ask, please don’t use that. But obviously that’s part of the whole process.”
Nau responded, saying that the County’s Emergency Services Director disagrees with this notion, while saying that the main logic behind the road is to relieve congestion on the US 160 Corridor.
Later, a comment from Laurie Gibson, while looking at the map of the proposed road on the projector screen, said it was not a logical proposal for a shortcut as easier access to the hospital. This brought chuckles and laughter from the audience.
“Then again, the road alignment may change,” Nau responded.
Amy, from the audience, asked, if when people have concerns about the 2030 Trip document for the county, is the answer simply to hide behind that document. “How public is that process,” she asked. “Are the negotiations done behind closed doors?”
Responding to Amy, Nau said that the 2030 Trip Report was drafted as part of a public process, and secondly that a future contract between the county and Oakridge Energy would be drafted and later brought to a meeting where public comments could be given and the contract later amended.
A member of Earth First! Durango, Travis, asked Nau if it could be guaranteed that in the event of the Grandview connection going in, that Oakridge Energy would simultaneously abandon the 35-acre parcels and seek out higher density parcels focussed along the Ewing Mesa Road as a result.
Such an outcome would depend on whether it was worded that way in the final contract between La Plata County and Oakridge Energy, Nau said.
Wrapping up the meeting, Riley Neugebauer, the event co-organizer from the Durango Youth Coalition, thanked the speakers who attended. Feeling empathy for the public officials involved, she was grateful, considering that most of the time when people want to give input, it’s because they’re mad, it’s not because they want to say thanks.