From Darkness To Light

29 Apr 2014

What inner tube prohibitionists don’t want you to know about the City’s Oxbow Park rules

Posted by Adam Howell

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A beach that the City of Durango now owns at Oxbow Park and Preserve sits empty.

A beach that the City of Durango now owns at Oxbow Park and Preserve sits empty.

“If they get on the river and they’re in that section of river without a paddle, they’re not going to get a ticket, because it’s not codified. So it’s not in the City’s code that you shall have a PFD on or you shall have a paddle in this section.” — Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz

Those are the words that local inner tube prohibitionists do not want you to know about the City of Durango’s newly designated Nature Paddling Trail extending from their recently purchased Oxbow Park down to 33rd Street. It’s a stretch of the Animas River that’s very popular with young tubers during the summer.

The Nature Paddling Trail is a local designation conceived of by the the City of Durango at the request of local inner tube prohibitionists who, more than anything, wanted the city to ban inner tubes from launching from the City’s newly acquired Oxbow Park and Preserve. Most of the prohibitionists who rallied against inner tubers at city meetings were middle-aged individuals who live next to or near the section of the Animas River from Oxbow to 33rd Street. Some of their public comments can be found here.

Wording in the Oxbow Park and Preserve Management Plan suggests a legal air of codification with the use of the wording ‘required’ or ‘shall’ to describe the way river users must abide by rules, but Metz insisted at a Natural Lands Board meeting in March that the wording was meant to be educational.

“But what it is–it’s an education to river users that it can take three hours if you’re just floating from Oxbow down to 33rd Street,” said Metz.

Whether the designation is codified or not, river users who set feet on the east side of the Animas River between Oxbow and 33rd Street are mostly in the County’s jurisdiction, where there’s no open container law, while people who set feet on the west side are in the City’s jurisdiction, where there is an open container law, according to City Councilor Dean Brookie.

Board member Ed Zink had serious concerns with how the City thinks they have authority over declaring this stretch of the river as a Nature Paddling Trail, a recreational area that the City does not technically own.

“All that’s good, but if we don’t own the land, and we don’t own the water–we being the city–what authority to we have to say that this is or isn’t something,” asked Board member Ed Zink.

While Metz says the designation is educational, the wording in the Management Plan speaks with authority, as a way to address the throngs of tubers who have built a bad image for themselves by pissing, pooping and littering on private property along their floats down to 33rd Street.

“Permitted Commercial River Outfitters for Oxbow Park are required to work with the city to ensure all users of the Nature Paddling Trail adhere to the guidelines of use on this section of river in Durango,” says Long Term Management Policy #4 in the Oxbow Park and Preserve Management Plan.

These flippers sell for $18.95 before taxes and shipping somewhere on the web.

These flippers sell for $18.95 before taxes and shipping somewhere on the web.

In addition, the Plan goes on to say in number 7 that river users taking access from Oxbow Park “should be propelled in this section with a paddle, swim flippers or swim hand paddles,” and “should wear an approved Personal Flotation Device.”

These ‘requirements’ come in a city-drafted management plan despite three precedent-setting federal court cases where judges have ruled in favor of the public’s right to legally access the surface of navigable rivers at any point.

Board member Ed Zink was still concerned with the local designation of the Animas River from Oxbow to 33rd Street as a Nature Paddling Trail.

“I think the city is putting themselves at risk for claiming that they have the authority to,” said Zink. “I think this is a messy subject–who has what authority on the water, and my advice that I’m offering is, I think the city is overstepping a little, and it would be well advised not to do that.”

Metz reiterated that the policy was not codified. She did say, however, that people with open containers of alcohol would be intercepted by law enforcement when they’re getting off of the river. That point of interception would presumably have to be on city-owned property for any tickets to hold up in court.

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2 Responses to “What inner tube prohibitionists don’t want you to know about the City’s Oxbow Park rules”

  1. The Colorado Supreme Court has already concluded that there are no navigable rivers in the State. Navigability must be shown by use in commerce at the time of statehood, See, e.g. Stockman v. Leddy, 129 P. 220, 222(Colo. 1912)( “the natural streams of this state are, in fact, nonnavigable”).



  2. In a U.S. Supreme Court appellate ruling United States v. Holt State Bank, 270 U.S. 49 (1926), the concept of navigability, when asserted as the basis of a right arising under the constitution, was determined to be a question of federal law, to be determined by the rule applied in the federal courts, and not by a local standard. Either way, the state legislature clarified the definition of “premises” under Colorado’s statute on criminal trespassing in 1977 to mean real property, buildings, improvements, and the stream beds and banks of any nonnavigable fresh water streams flowing through such real property. Their clarified definition included neither waters nor airspace, as a utilitarian benefit for the greater good of society–especially to those that want to float navigable rivers and streams.


    Adam Howell

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