Preserving Recreational Open Space and Parks in Partnership with the City of Durango and GOCO

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

For newcomers it may be hard to believe, but Durango didn’t always have the abundance of recreational open spaces and parks it has today. Thanks to the efforts of La Plata Open Space Conservancy and a group of visionary and strong-willed residents begun in the mid-1990s, Durango is now unrivaled in that regard by most other comparably sized U.S. communities.

The genesis occurred in 1994. A diverse group of stakeholders, including conservationists, recreationists, and the City of Durango, were becoming concerned that the owner of a 151-acre parcel located just west of Durango’s downtown core might put the property up for sale, thus potentially exposing it to residential development.

For conservationists, the concern was loss of wildlife habitat, particularly considering the parcel’s contiguity with BLM land and Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. The recreationists’ concern centered around potential loss of an area popular with bikers and hikers. The City’s concern was something that would affect every resident and visitor – loss of the unobstructed viewshed west from downtown Durango due to development of ridgeline structures. La Plata Open Space Conservancy, coming off its campaign just a couple years prior that resulted in conservation of the beloved Hidden Valley area north of Durango, desired to stay true to its broad mission of benefitting the public and protect all those values, for everyone.

After the stakeholders secured the landowner’s agreement to sell to them, the City of Durango committed to providing half of the purchase funds. La Plata Open Space Conservancy, tapping into a relatively new grant program established by the Great Outdoors Colorado (“GOCO”) dedicated to assist nonprofit land trusts in acquiring properties with high conservation value, was able to provide the other half. And thus, one of the crown jewels of the City of Durango’s parks and open space network was born: Westside Mountain Park, now Overend Mountain Park after being renamed in honor of six-time national mountain-biking champion and longtime local resident Ned Overend.

Since working with the City to contribute that valuable community asset, La Plata Open Space Conservancy and the City have partnered multiple other times to acquire GOCO funding necessary to secure additional prized open space and park lands, and most importantly, the opportunities to recreate and engage nature that those lands provide. In 2001, to enlarge Overend to its current breadth of 301 acres, La Plata Open Space conservancy donated to the City 28 acres of land that it had previously worked to protect from development. In 2005, the two partnered to acquire the 177 acres that comprise Dalla Mountain Park. In 2010, the partnership facilitated acquisition of 705 acres of the Horse Gulch Open Space. Finally, in 2011, the partners worked together to acquire the 44 acres now known as Oxbow Park and Preserve.

Further, to ensure for everyone that these properties continue to be used and managed well into the future for the recreation, open space, and conservation purposes for which they were acquired, La Plata Open Space Conservancy holds and annually monitors conservation easements on the properties. As a result, Durango and its residents will benefit in perpetuity from a surrounding greenbelt and a unique, municipal-lands recreational paradise.

Each of the City open space and park lands La Plata Open Space Conservancy worked to secure boasts distinct natural beauty, conservation values, and countless recreational opportunities, just out the back door for many Durango residents.

Overend – High desert punctuated by spectacular views and a trail system catering to hikers and cyclists of all skill levels. In 1994, when the stakeholders began working on the Overend acquisition, Durango had no real organized trail system and few prospects to get one. La Plata Open Space Conservancy, the GOCO funding it was able to obtain, the City of Durango, and the dozens of volunteers who donated hundreds of hours to build trails changed that. Overend became an instant hit with hikers and bikers, as well as a source of pride for residents of Durango, and it remains that today.

Dalla - Due to its shady and craggy nature, this area functions as a popular rock-climbing destination. Dalla similarly became a point of pride and a destination for close-by recreational opportunities shortly after it was acquired and a network of trails was constructed to access the popular crags.

Horse Gulch - Rises from expansive open meadow to ridgeline and features technical trails that beckon advanced cyclists. The possibilities for a recreational trail system on City open space lands leapt ahead with the acquisition of Horse Gulch. Flanked by downtown Durango and the Fort Lewis College Campus, the 5,123-acre open space now boasts the Telegraph and Horse Gulch Trail System, an approximately 60-mile natural surface trail network that is used extensively for non-motorized activities.

Oxbow - In addition to hosting the City’s biggest and most frequented riverfront beach, Oxbow offers one of the finest local collections of riparian habitat. Oxbow perhaps offers the best example of how La Plata Open Space Conservancy has benefitted wildlife along with increasing recreational opportunities. Oxbow showcases 44 acres of lush wildlife habitat along the Animas River. The mature cottonwood overstory, in combination with the tall, mature willow understory, provides plentiful foraging and nesting opportunities for raptors, woodpeckers, and songbirds. Oxbow remains a center of bird life and operates an important key for local wildlife research. Every year citizens volunteer for research purposes to band migratory birds who briefly call the park home during their journey.

Today, the extensive trail systems and other recreation amenities in Overend, Dalla, Oxbow and Horse Gulch are frequently used by residents, Fort Lewis students, faculty, and travelers alike. Visitors enjoy hiking, biking, climbing and studying the various ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The conservation easement La Plata Open Space Conservancy holds on the properties ensures that those possibilities will exist for generations to come.

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