EDITORIAL: A Pleasant Walk Through the Neighborhood, Part One

Due to inclement weather and out of town property owners, please join us remotely for tonight’s meeting. The Town’s website has a copy of the powerpoint for your convenience under the news section and with the same title as email.

— Email from the Town of Pagosa Springs, January 5, 2017

I logged into a somewhat unusual online event last Thursday evening — possibly the first public meeting ever hosted by the Town government that taxpayers could attend via the Internet.

As I had been warned, the weather was indeed inclement that evening, so rather than jump into my car and risk my life on snowy roads, I poured myself a glass of wine and settled down in front of my computer screen.

When I clicked the link that had been included in the Town’s email, I found myself viewing a portion of the South Conference Room at the Ross Aragon Community Center. My old Mac computer doesn’t have a built-in microphone, so I signed in as a mere listener, but the online application apparently had an option — if I’d had a microphone — to participate in the discussion remotely.

We were going to hear about (and hopefully have a chance to comment on) a plan to, someday, complete the Riverwalk Trail. The missing portion of the trail passes through the historical Hermosa Street neighborhood. Or, to be more accurate, the missing portion of the trail does NOT pass through the historical Hermosa Street neighborhood.

Town Projects Manager Scott Lewandowski was welcoming a crowd of maybe twenty local citizens. (I could see only 12 people via the video camera, but I later gathered from the ‘off-camera voices’ that there were several additional people in the room.) Prior to last October, I had lived on Hermosa Street for about three years, sharing a house with my friend Glenn Walsh and, although the video image was not perfect, I could recognize a few of my former neighbors, and also a couple of Town officials.

Mr. Lewandowski had set up a projector and was apparently projecting images on the wall of the meeting room while he explained the situation to the audience. As a video participant, I was unable to see any of the slides or maps, but I had already downloaded a few of the slides from the Town website, so I wasn’t totally lost.

Mr. Lewandowski’s maps, however, had not been provided on the website. I used my imagination.

Back in the 1980s — during a previous local recession caused mainly by an unpleasant decline in Texas oil prices — someone in the little town of Pagosa Springs had the brilliant idea of building a scenic public trail along the San Juan River, leading from the ponds behind the River Center, all through the river’s downtown stretch and eventually ending maybe somewhere near what is now Yamaguchi Park and the high school football field. (Neither of those public facilities existed in the 1980s.)

The first portion of the Riverwalk was already completed by the time I moved to Pagosa Springs in 1993. The trail meandered along the riverbank from Town Park, at the west end of Hermosa Street, through Centennial Park and over McCabe Creek to terminate at Sixth Street — a pleasant 5-minute stroll.

As I mentioned, I was not able to view the maps Mr. Lewandowski was sharing with the audience members who were physically present in the meeting room on Thursday evening, so I will share a modified Google map of the Riverwalk as it existed in its 1993 version, with the trail tinted in pink. (And, no, the trail does not, in fact, pass through the San Juan River as shown):

The Town also constructed a short section of trail behind the River Center, at the east end of town (although Google is apparently unaware of that segment.)

As we can see, there’s a bit of distance between the East Segment of the trail, behind the River Center, and the West Segment that begins at Town Park. In fact, there’s an entire neighborhood between the two segments.

Over the next two decades, additional pieces were added to the trail, whenever the Town was able to acquire grant funding for this or that segment, and currently the trail extends from Town Park, over a new pedestrian bridge at Sixth Street, beside a wetlands area, past Town Hall, and over the Apache Street Bridge — from which point you could walk to Yamaguchi Park via sidewalks, if any such sidewalks existed.

Here are a couple of photos taken by Daily Post writer Cynda Green during a recent winter stroll along the Riverwalk. (You can view her full photo essay here.)

Photos by Cynda Green

The still-missing segment of the trail — the piece that might someday connect the main trail to the short segment behind the River Center — must pass through the Hermosa Street neighborhood.

This is a problem.

All of the existing segments of the trail pass through Town parks, or vacant land.. so the foot and bicycle traffic on the trail does not disturb anyone’s privacy (except for one residence at the west end of the Apache Street Bridge, perhaps.) When the original plans were drawn up for the River Walk, back in the 1980s, the Town wanted the trail to continue east from Town Park, along the banks of the river, and somehow cross to the eastern bank near the River Center. The plan was not entirely thought-out, but it’s my understanding that the Town acquired trail easements all along the river, clear through the Hermosa Street neighborhood. One problem with those easements, however, is that they pass through residential backyards — backyards that currently overlook, and access, the lovely San Juan River.

The same lovely river that pedestrians and cyclists might enjoy, if a public trail were available.

Public trails are all well and good, when they pass through municipal parks and along vast stretches of vacant land. Not so pleasant, perhaps, when they pass through your private backyard.

So the Town has a couple of issues to resolve. Do they want to push a trail through the backyards of Hermosa Street property owners who bought homes with river access?

And, even if they do, how would they pay for it?

Read Part Two, tomorrow…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.