OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes January 31, 2009

Clean water a priority not only in GJ, but Durango, too

As Sen. Edmund Muskie asked his colleagues in urging an override of President Nixon’s veto of the Clean Water Act on Oct. 17, 1972: “Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make life possible on this planet? Can we afford life itself? … These questions answer themselves.”

Our government views the Clean Water Act as “the cornerstone of surface water quality protection in the United States.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site, “The Act does not deal directly with ground water nor with water quantity issues. The statute employs a variety of regulatory and nonregulatory tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.”

The goal, of course, is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters so that they can support “the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water.”

Besides, it’s our drinking water.

For many years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, the EPA, all 50 states and Indian tribes focused mainly on chemical aspects of the “integrity” goal. The EPA says that during the last decade, more attention has been given to physical and biological integrity.

No matter what you think of the EPA, we’ve done our part here in the Grand Valley to protect the physical and biological integrity of the Colorado River over the past couple decades. The Grand Junction Lions Club pledged money from its 1987 carnival toward the purchase and cleanup of Watson Island in the Colorado River where Seventh Street now meets nature at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens. The city and state as well as other private and public entities provided money, in-kind services, grants and charitable fund-raising efforts.

It took years, thousands of volunteer hours and tons of money to clean up this once former salvage yard, but it wouldn’t have occurred if it weren’t for a few local visionaries who, back in the mid-1980s, spawned the creation of the Grand Junction/Mesa County Riverfront Commission and the Colorado Riverfront Trail.

The city of Durango had its own visions of what the Animas River should look like through that happy little valley, and local leaders there began the early stages of planning an Animas River Trail at about the same time. They also developed kayaking and rafting courses and river structures that would enhance the fishing.

In fact, cities across the nation began building and maintaining beautiful river parks, with picnic, boating and fishing areas, trails for hiking, biking, skating and wildlife watching. Cities such as San Antonio, Seattle, Syracuse, Sarasota. Colorado Springs, Cincinnati, Cleveland … you name it.

As a great old pal of mine, Jack Leslie, points out, paved trails like these “sure mess up the duck hunting.” Yet, as a nation, we were coming to grips with the fact that we all really needed clean water to survive — and we all needed a little time outdoors — to survive.

I was in Durango last week and visited the Animas River Trail. It’s not as long as the river trail through the Grand Valley, but it’s a beauty.

This handicapped-accessible path has approximately seven miles of hard-surface trail running through Durango along the picturesque Animas River, with numerous access points and an additional 4.2 miles of trail planned for the future. The north end of this extremely popular trail is the intersection of 32nd Avenue and East Second Avenue (across the river from City Market North). It travels south through several city parks and across five bridges to the south end.

Funding is now in place to complete a segment of the trail behind the Durango Mall.

According to the Durango Herald, the city received two grants last month “that will provide about half the estimated $1.1 million needed to build an 800-foot section between the Durango Harley-Davidson dealership and the north end of the mall, commonly known as the Mall Corner Trail. When completed, the section will link the southern two miles of trail to the 4.7-mile northern section.”

The Herald reported that Great Outdoors Colorado awarded $505,400, and the balance came from the Federal Transportation Enhancement Program administered by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The city of Durango will match the grants with funds provided by a 1999 voter-approved sales-tax fund that was partially designated for Animas River Trail completion and maintenance.

We’ve got many more miles of paved trail here through the Grand Valley, but one difference between the two regions is this: One plans to maintain a green corridor, even funding it through a voter-approved sales tax; the other has decided industrial zoning is appropriate on the river bank.

Go figure.

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