River study generates enthusiam

By Pat Sunderland

A conceptual plan for development of the Gunnison River corridor east from Confluence Park generated a great deal of excitement when it was unveiled last week. When -- and if -- fully implemented, the plan would clearly run into the millions and would require the purchase or acquisition of right-of-way along both sides of the river. But as a "vision" with no price tags attached, the concept appeared to have the support of most of those gathered to hear a presentation from the engineering firm contracted to complete the study.

City manager David Torgler set the stage for the June 9 presentation, saying RiverRestoration has roughed in about 30 percent of the conceptual plan. The purpose of the meeting was to seek feedback before the design process moves to 60 percent completion. That's as far as RiverRestoration will take the concept at this point.

Engineer Jason Carey made the presentation for RiverRestoration, breaking the river into six segments beginning with the boat ramp in Confluence Park and moving upstream to the city-owned Cottonwood property. In between is isolated, privately-owned land that offers a great deal of potential. Carey said a "significant floodplain issue" is likely one reason that property is undeveloped, but it's not an insurmountable obstacle.

Beginning at Confluence Park, Carey cited a desire to build on the existing trail system by extending the trail east via an underpass beneath the Highway 50 bridge. When asked to prioritize projects later in the meeting, Carey said the underpass would be a great place to start. He also mentioned riverbank improvements and controlling invasives, which would require an ongoing effort.

Carey commented on Delta's OHV-friendly policies, saying the trails could be designed to connect the city to BLM land and on up to Grand Mesa. A multi-use bridge from 1675 Road would accommodate off-highway vehicles as well as pedestrians and bicyclists. Kids could use the trail system to cross the river and get to the Cottonwood soccer fields. The cost of the 600-foot bridge alone could run $2 million, Carey acknowledged.

New recreational opportunities include a camping area for rafters, which is currently a missing element on the 100-mile stretch of river from the Gunnison Gorge to Whitewater. In other areas of the river, boulders would be used to create terraces that would invite wading and tubing. There are five lakes along the river where concessionaires could offer paddleboarding or a cable park.

Those who have visited Salida, Buena Vista, Durango and Montrose have seen how the rivers have been transformed in the hope of tapping into the growing outdoor recreation industry. But when she visited the river park in Montrose, Jo-An Barnett said she was told only locals are taking advantage of that amenity. With her comment, discussion turned to the need for marketing. Torgler said that discussion is not confined to Delta, but has expanded to surrounding communities that would also like to get the word out about the opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Carey pointed out river improvements have not only produced "massive" economic returns in other communities, they're also a lifestyle enhancement that will hopefully reverse the outward migration of Delta County's younger generations. The broadband effort is another component of that vision, which is designed to position Delta County toward growth and expansion by creating a more diverse economic base.

Carey, who called the turnout for the meeting "impressive," said community support will be of tremendous importance if the city pursues funding from such sources as Great Outdoors Colorado.

The river corridor study can be viewed on the city's website at www.cityofdelta.net. The study, which was funded by a $100,000 DOLA grant, is expected to be completed by the end of the month.