OURAY – The City of Ouray’s rustic, largely undeveloped Rotary Park along Highway 550 in the North Ouray Corridor could be transformed into a gravel processing and storage site under a proposed new plan being considered by the Ouray City Council.
The proposal marks a radical departure from the Parks Master Plan adopted by the city in 2010. It would displace a proposed miners heritage park, now in the development phase, from Rotary to Fellin Park, and shift the regulation-sized ice skating rink currently located in Rotary Park back up to the Box Canyon Falls parking lot, where it was originally, for several years in the early 1990s. A picnicking and rock climbing area in the southern portion of the park would remain intact.
Council held a work session on the matter on the evening of Monday, Sept. 30, with three different issues on the table for discussion: the location for a proposed new site to meet the city’s gravel augmentation needs (Rotary Park vs. the city’s wastewater treatment plant), the location for the ice rink (Rotary Park vs. Box Canyon parking lot) and the location for the Mining Heritage Park (Rotary Park vs. Fellin Park).
Gravel augmentation is a perennial problem for the City of Ouray, sandwiched as it is in a narrow canyon with little room to store and process the thousands of yards of material that pour down out of the Skyrocket Creek and Cascade drainages, and then are dredged out of the Uncompahgre River in the North Ouray Corridor every year.
The city desperately needs a central location to process and store this material, said Counselor John Ferguson. Currently, the city hauls material to the SAKO gravel pit in Ouray County, south of Ridgway, where it is processed, stored, and then hauled back for use on Ouray city streets as needed.
Council has considered purchasing an empty lot in the North Ouray Corridor for gravel augmentation purposes, but this could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which the cash-strapped city doesn’t have.
What the city does have is land aplenty – about five acres’ worth, at Rotary Park that’s more than enough for the three acres or so that would be needed for the gravel augmentation site. Councilors argued that the park is lightly used, and has never been a successful site for the ice-skating rink, with strong sun exposure that shortens the skating season considerably.
The Box Canyon Falls parking lot, on the other hand, gets very little sun exposure and remains very cold throughout the winter, but there are several problems in locating an ice rink there. The rink would not have its own dedicated parking area; skaters (and broomballers) would have to walk up the access road from the base of Third Ave. and Oak St. – already a busy area crowded with several motels, the Ouray Hydroelectric Plant and Oak Street residential neighborhood. Nor is the proposed area large enough for a regulation-sized hockey rink, and, finally, the rink walls would have to be dismantled and stored on an annual basis.
The issue came to a head when the Beautification Committee wanted to issue a Request for Proposals for berm work for the proposed miners heritage park this fall, using $12,000 budgeted for that purpose this year.
“We need to make a final decision on what is or is not going to occur,” City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli told council.
This was the first time that council broached the subject with the Beautification Committee and the Parks and Recreation Committee, which is charged with overseeing the ice skating rink.
“It is an emotional issue,” said Councilor John Ferguson. “I don’t think anything is a done deal at this point. But people need to understand the city’s dilemma about where to process and store gravel. I understand if you say ‘Let’s turn the park into a gravel pit,’” he said. “It won’t win a popularity contest.”
However, Ferguson argued, the ice rink “has not been successful” in its current location, whereas the Box Canyon Falls parking lot “would be a beautiful venue, and cold enough to stay frozen for a longer period of time.” As a plus, the Box Canyon Falls visitors center could double as a warming hut and skate rental facility in the winter, he said.
The mining exhibit, Ferguson argued, could be successfully relocated in Fellin Park in the former location of the tennis courts. “It would get much more traffic than at Rotary Park,” he predicted.
Council candidate Carl Cockle offered his own historical perspective, as one of the handful of citizens who started the ice rink in the Box Canyon parking lot in the 1990s. “It was a great place, very cold, with very little sun, and the ice didn’t melt much. But it wasn’t a regulation rink, and there’s the question of what to do with the parking.”
Cockle said the city did experiment with plowing out the Box Canyon Falls access road and allowing cars to drive up there one winter. “It was a total disaster,” he recalled. “There were so many cars hanging on the cliff and down the road.”
Councilor Michael Underwood, meanwhile, emphasized his concern about council preempting a plan to develop the proposed miners heritage park in Rotary Park, in which the Beautification Committee has already invested “quite a lot of time, energy and money.”
Underwood advocated for locating the proposed gravel augmentation site at the city’s wastewater treatment plant instead, in an area where there are currently unusable ponds that need to undergo environmental remediation.
“At this point we are not able to use the ground for anything,” Underwood argued. “It . would make more sense to spend money to make the land usable, and would give us another alternative to consider.”
The city has already spent $33,800 for engineering on the mining park and ice rink improvement projects.
Beautification Committee member Mike Kern said it was “disconcerting” to all of a sudden potentially face a radical change for the location and very nature of the mIners heritage park, but added that he was not opposed to relocating it in Fellin Park.
Members of the Parks and Recreation Committee, meanwhile, said they liked the idea of the proposed ice rink improvements, but are concerned that the city cannot afford to build the $1.7 million facility called for in the Parks Master Plan. Current fundraising efforts have raised just $9,000 toward the project.
Mayoral candidate Pam Larson was not in favor of seeing Rotary Park converted into a gravel storage area, and agreed with Underwood that the wastewater treatment plant was a favorable alternative, particularly since the pond-dredging there is already budgeted for 2014.
But outgoing mayor Bob Risch worried the treatment plant site was not large enough to meet the city’s gravel augmentation needs.
Larson argued that gravel is a movable commodity. “It seems like we are asking for more and more land for something we are moving and using,” she said.
Risch conceded that “There may be a way to look at both parcels...” using Rotary Park as backup for storage on an as-needed basis, and called for a cost-benefit analysis of the two sites.
“Why does it have to be so visible?” Beautification Committee member Barbara Uhles lamented. “Everything the city has ever done looks like crap; now you’re trying to put a gravel pit right at the entrance to Ouray? It makes no sense. I hope you are planning on fencing it.”
Ferguson reminded Uhles that the North Ouray Corridor “is an industrial corridor.”
“Industrial doesn’t have to look bad,” Uhles retorted.
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