EDITORIAL: A Pleasant Walk Through the Neighborhood, Part Two

Read Part One

Two things I especially appreciated about the Thursday, January 5 meeting at the Ross Aragon Community Center, hosted by the Town of Pagosa Springs administration:

1) The meeting was streamed live, over the Internet, meaning that I could participate as an audience member without driving snowy roads.

2) The Town staff actually listened to the public.

How many government board “public hearings” have I attended, over the years?… where the purported reason for allowing taxpayer input was to gather important information from the public… but where, in fact, the true purpose was to explain why that particular government board was moving ahead with a predetermined agenda regardless of how the public felt about it? I would hate to total the number; it would likely cause indigestion.

I didn’t know whether the January 5 presentation was going to play out along those same lines — with the staff simply telling the public why they’d picked a certain course of action. Pleasantly enough, as things turned out that night, the Town representatives in the room seemed eager to hear from the Hermosa Street residents, and honestly take their input into account.

I mentioned in Part One that I was unable, as an online participant in that meeting, to view the several maps that Town Projects Director Scott Lewandowski projected on the wall for the Community Center audience. But Mr. Lewandowski was kind enough to email those seven maps to the Daily Post yesterday.

Here’s the map that was, I presume, the most disturbing to the property owners on the south side of Hermosa Street when it was projected on the wall. The maps, each showing a different potential trail route, were created by Davis Engineering.

(I colored the proposed trail in yellow to make it easier to read… and added some additional labels to the image.)

Scott Lewandowski:

“This trail would leave from the path that’s right behind Veterans Bridge, and then follow the river up to Highway 160.. running through the Hermosa Street backyards. That cost, according to Davis Engineering, is about $1.1 million. Rough estimate.”

Perhaps Town Planner James Dickhoff could sense the discomfort in the room — considering that the trail drawn by Davis Engineering seemed to run directly through the middle of certain backyards. (Maybe he noticed that certain audience members were suddenly unable to breathe?)

James Dickhoff:

“I just wanted to mention, while we’re looking at this map — I know it may be alarming, because that line is pretty far into these properties. But this is really just a representation of a starting point, so most likely — if the trail were going to be along the river — it would be a lot closer to the riverbank.

“I just wanted to mention that…”

So I’m thinking, now, about the whole idea of “trails.” The Town of Pagosa Springs has become somewhat obsessed with the idea that we will never be a truly attractive Rocky Mountain community unless our residential areas are crisscrossed with a network of “trails” that are forbidden to motor vehicles.

We have, here in America, a “love-hate relationship” with our automobiles. But that was not the case, back in 1883, when a team of surveyors concocted the Town of Pagosa Springs around the central feature of a very deep and free-flowing (and sulfur-smelling) hot spring. As we see from the plat map from that year, the surveyors were — at that point in time — obsessed with a different idea: that a new town ought to be designed on a strictly geometric grid of rectangles that have almost no relationship to the physical topography of the land in question.

The 1883 plat of the Town of Pagosa Springs, created by the Colorado Surveyor General’s Office, based on a survey by U.S. Deputy Surveyor Benjamin Smith.

This adherence to geometric rectangles was particularly obvious in the case of the southern part of town, where the rectangles completely ignore the existence of the San Juan River — treating that (rather obvious) physical feature as if it had no bearing on how one should orient residential streets and parcels.

But of course, geometric grids were all the rage, back in the 1880s, among the designers of new towns and cities. And we are still living with that architectural fad, 134 years later.

The shape of Pagosa’s core downtown district, surrounding what is now Highway 160, actually took into account the existence of the San Juan River and the rolling hillsides that define the north side of our historical downtown neighborhoods. Where the hillside slopes appeared particularly formidable to housing, the surveyors left some open space in their plat. And they placed a nice size park right next to the winding river.

The only residential neighborhood that seemed completely oriented to the San Juan River ran along Hermosa Street. One the south side of the street, the parcels were drawn with river views, and river access. This was a rather different approach from the one taken in the other platted neighborhoods, and it no doubt helped to give the Hermosa Street neighborhood its somewhat unique character.

But let’s talk creatively and thoughtfully, for a moment, about “trails.”

I would assume — and yes, I do a lot of assuming, here in the Daily Post — I assume that the surveyors who drew all of these right angled streets for a town that did not exist, were making their own assumptions. One of those assumptions might have been, that the taxpayers who eventually moved into this frontier community would want sidewalks.

This is just me, making assumptions about how people designed and conceived new towns in the 1880s — that the streets were for horses and wagons, and the people walked along sides of the streets, upon sidewalks. Hence the name, “sidewalks.”

The 1883 plat of the Town of Pagosa Springs, created by the Colorado Surveyor General’s Office, based on a survey by U.S. Deputy Surveyor Benjamin Smith.

If you look at this map, with a mind to how people lived in 1883, you might be able to see that the yet-to-be-built town of Pagosa Springs included approximately three dozen “trails” that ran in very straight lines, connecting the various future neighborhoods with walking and riding paths.

134 years later, the people of Pagosa Springs still have not gotten around to funding and installing the sidewalks — the pedestrian safety features — that the surveyors in 1883 surely must have imagined.

134 years later, the children who walk to our downtown schools have to constantly look back over their shoulders, watching out for cars and trucks, because the “trails” envisioned in 1883 have still not been constructed for most of our downtown streets. Only a few neighborhood streets currently have sidewalks… and then, those sidewalks… simply… come to an end? For no apparent reason?

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Read Part Three…

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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.