Visions of Las Colonias Park surface again along riverfront
Four years ago, a landscape architect stood in front of the Grand Junction City Council and proclaimed that Las Colonias Park, once developed, could become “a new front door for the city.”
Today, though, that door still lacks a knob, a strike plate and any hinges on which it could swing open to park users. Except for a concrete walking path, the 100-acre parcel that hugs the north banks of the Colorado River in south downtown remains a blank canvas.
Three men who have long advocated for the river hope to change that soon.
The group is pushing city officials to begin developing Las Colonias, acknowledging that while money is tight right now, there are opportunities to make headway on property that’s important to the city both environmentally and economically.
“Every river in America through every city in America is being protected and turned into a showcase for that city, and it’s time we did the same thing,” said Bill Haggerty, a former Division of Wildlife employee who is joining with Grand Junction attorney Harry Griff and Bennett Boeschenstein, a former planning director for Mesa County, Grand Junction and Fruita.
The men say they are particularly interested in building an amphitheater in Las Colonias that could seat up to 2,000 people, and they are exploring the possibility of raising funds privately to sponsor a concert series.
Las Colonias once was a dumping ground for uranium mill tailings before the property was cleaned up in the 1980s. The state donated the land, which is about the same size as Grand Junction’s largest developed park, Canyon View, to the city in 1997.
City officials developed a master plan for Las Colonias the following year but shelved it after the design of Riverside Parkway took the route through the north end of the park. In 2006, the city spent $35,000 to create a second plan that called for, among other things, a 75,000-square-foot civic facility, a 2,000-seat amphitheater and a dog park.
The consultant that developed the plan estimated park development could cost $20 million. The city has no money budgeted for the project.
Boeschenstein, who sits on the Colorado Riverfront Commission and the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens board of directors, said he and others like the plan but fear the city may forget about it.
“It does seem a shame that Fruita and Palisade have these wonderful riverfront venues and Grand Junction doesn’t,” Boeschenstein said, referring to the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park in Fruita and Riverbend Park in Palisade.
Las Colonias supporters say they realize city sales-tax revenue is down and city leaders are focused on spending the money they do have in other areas.
But they note Mesa County is in the midst of spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars to add sections to the Riverfront Trail, and the city can apply for funds from Great Outdoors Colorado and other organizations.
In addition, the city spent about $1.5 million in the past couple of years adding amenities at Canyon View Park and making improvements to Pomona and Rocket parks.
“It could be done in bits and pieces,” Boeschenstein said of Las Colonias. “It’s Grand Junction’s riverfront, and it really needs to be enhanced.”