Dave Shively: Things for the Springs

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Dave Shively

Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com.

— It's easy to pick on people from Pagosa Springs. The Pagosans just seem so very content living in their stunning physical surroundings, and the ones I know have no problem inviting doses of self-deprecating humor.

But lately, they seem to be getting less jolly.

Pagosa Springs is a micro version of Steamboat Springs. It's about four to five times smaller, but like Steamboat, its "off the beaten path" character is beginning to dull. Rampant growth, massive development, trouble with affordable housing amid skyrocketing real estate, historical preservation issues, big box ordinances - sound familiar? This week, people in Steamboat weren't alone sitting beneath a barren ski area wondering why it hasn't snowed in November. The melting snow in Pagosa has even more direct parallels.

The San Juan River peaks for an early runoff, just like the Yampa. The fishing guides go to work while commercial raft companies up the adventure allure by transitioning from rafting to tubing operations. The local and tourist users converge on a marquee downtown stretch of grouted features adjacent to the town's destination hot springs.

The town has hit some speed bumps in trying to satisfy everyone's needs. One of the original features installed in 1994 was stranding tubers mid-river. According to town manager Mark Garcia, the town went to remove/rebuild the feature and opened a maelstrom of protest. First, the DOW cited violations to its Fishing is Fun grant, and then the Army of Corps of Engineers came calling. It didn't help that the town removed a USGS gauging station near the work site.

Now the town has regrouped, agreed to pay for improvements solely out of its own budget, outlined five new structures that boaters and fishers agreed on and await the Corps' green light to start moving rock.

"You just have to build consensus with stakeholders and hope to reach memorandums of understanding," Garcia said.

Steamboat seems to be avoiding Pagosa pitfalls, even though the Yampa seems to be the only thing left downtown not currently being razed and rebuilt.

At least planning is happening to eventually deal with the urbanization of this stretch.

Last week, Ecological Resource Consultants presented a mapped, itemized list of 84 areas of the Yampa's immediate concern - from eroding banks, to aquatic habitat health to play holes operating at "sub optimal function" - to a cross-section of about 20 riverine constituents.

You can tell from their glossy business cards that the ongoing consulting does not come cheap - to the tune of $68,710 exactly. The price for implementing changes only goes up. But consensus could prove to be priceless - a unified voice as this Structure Master Plan is finalized and problem areas prioritized with upcoming meetings in the next months could be the key to guiding a newly elected Steamboat Springs City Council to find means to balance ecology with increased recreational use.

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