Friends present tower idea, groups work to get along


Staff Writer

Friends of Reservoir Hill board member Christine Funk brought Norm Vance to the Feb. 21 Pagosa Springs town council meeting to help present an idea for a new observation deck, for which the Friends group has pledged to conduct its own fund-raising campaign, and then finance, design and build at the old picnic table site at the top of the Hill above the concert meadow.

“We’re excited to show you some ideas that we have,” Funk began, referring to a handout she distributed to each of the council members and a slide show she had projected onto a screen for the audience. “We wanted to go over a few of the items that go with the deck.”

Funk then proceeded to outline several features of the proposed project.

First, there would need to be enhancements to the trail leading to the deck from the concert meadow.

“There are obviously some issues to address. If we get approval from you guys, the first thing we would do is get permission for access from the adjacent property owner where the fence is. We haven’t even approached them yet, until we know that we can move forward.”

Funk was referring to the two-track road already in existence on Reservoir Hill, which leads directly to the site where the proposed deck would be built. That road is currently on private property.

“If we were able to get access through that property to build the deck, it would be really helpful. We would love it if they would actually give the city that eight feet and just move their fence. It would really help make a trail to the top that would be wide enough for anybody to walk up.”

Next, Funk described the deck. “The site on top is the old picnic bench site, and we have had Jess (local architect Jess Wilton) make some renderings of, not a tower, but a one-level deck structure. It is roughly twelve by twelve feet. It’s not huge, but it does have a covered roof where some of the exhibit panels would be underneath it.”

Wilton’s drawings included a ramp for universal access, log construction that could utilize any trees trimmed to open up the view, and an area for picnic tables. Funk also proposed two solar-powered webcams — one for security to prevent vandalism and one to show the view.

Funk promised that volunteers from the Friends of Reservoir Hill would perform maintenance and repairs on the structure twice per year. She also showed a slide with an itemized estimate of the cost of construction ($25,270 total, excluding labor), and said, “This really doesn’t pertain that much to you guys because the Friends are willing to put up the money for the actual deck — the materials and labor and all of that.”

The third aspect of the project Funk presented was a series of exhibit panels that would be installed along the railing of the deck. “Basically, the idea is to show what’s around us, so people will say, ‘Oh, I’d like to go over there. There’s a place I can go recreate. There’s a trail I can go hike. There’s a peak I can go climb.’ So, it is really meant to give people an idea of what is around us. We’d like to talk about the Pagosa Skyrocket plant, the geology, and the history of the hill and the town.”

The final part of the proposal Funk made was for a composting toilet facility. “Something very simple, nothing major, but it would really add to the value of the deck for people to be able to remain up there for a while. It is important to have something like that if you are creating a place for people to go. As far as the cost, we would also be willing to help with that.

“I keep hearing that everyone wants to wait until the election is over to do anything,” Funk concluded, “and I sorta get that, but whatever way the election goes, this is still a worthy project, and we’re still willing to do it even if the election doesn’t go the way we would like it to.”

Council members Clint Alley and David Schanzenbaker each expressed support for the Friends’ proposal, and Schanzenbaker added, “I really like the idea of making small improvements to the hill as magnets to pull people up to use it more often. The disc golf course and the trail grooming in the winter for cross country skiing have helped draw people up there.”

Earlier, before Funk got into the nuts and bolts of her proposal, the first slide of her presentation displayed the mission statement for her group. The mission statement lists several specific projects the Friends would like to help the town accomplish: A multi-use events center, concert meadow greenscaping, educational exhibits, trails and signage, as well as the observation deck that was the subject of the presentation.

The last thing on the mission statement slide was this: “Friends of Reservoir Hill want to explore alternatives to large mechanical structures that conflict with the natural and peaceful environment of our park.”

While an outside observer might assume Funk was simply introducing her group and letting the town council know what they were all about, there is a history of tension existing between the town council and the Friends group.

In late August, the Town Tourism Committee presented to town council a $4-million proposal for a variety of amenities to be built on Reservoir Hill. To view this presentation, go to and click on “Reservoir Hill Plan Presentation 8.23.12.” The project included a chairlift, a treetop zipline course, an alpine coaster and several other amenities, all designed to attract tourists and give people more reasons to stay in Pagosa Country.

While town manager David Mitchem maintained the proposal had garnered widespread support from the community, a large crowd of protestors attended the August meeting, and at one point the comments became so heated that Mayor Ross Aragon asked police to remove an audience member from the building.

The town council voted to move forward with the project, directing the TTC to continue on with the next steps of the plan and to begin exploring funding options.

As a result, several citizens, claiming their voices had been ignored by town council, joined together to form the Friends of Reservoir Hill, which held its first public meeting in November. At that meeting, it was announced that a petition drive had begun to call for a special election to amend the town’s Home Rule Charter so that no mechanized development could occur on Reservoir Hill without the consent of town voters.

In December, the mayor and town council members (with the exception of Schanzenbaker and Alley), reacting to the attempt to take away their power to decide what happens to town property and claiming the Friends group lied to the people who signed the petition by telling them the town planned on putting in a Ferris wheel, began circulating their own petition for a ballot question that would have the opposite wording of the Friends ballot question.

In January, the sponsors of the second petition withdrew their petition, admitting that a second ballot question would only muddy the waters and stating a willingness to work with the Friends group to resolve the issue.

Nonetheless, there is still animosity between the two camps. At the end of the TTC’s strategic planning retreat held on Feb. 12, TTC Chairman Bob Hart said, “I will work on my part, but I’m sorry, ‘The Friends of Reservoir Hill,’ just the name of their group, pisses me off, because the implication is we are not friends of Reservoir Hill.”

This statement was made after TTC member Stacy Boone said, “I have been on the TTC for a year now, and to say it has been a bumpy road is an understatement.

“We all have other responsibilities in the community and it is important to remember we are all volunteers, and we give the best time, effort and dedication we can. The TTC follows through on things based on what we believe is best for the community.

“With that being said, we also have to be open-minded to what else we hear, because it may be an angle or a thought we didn’t have before.

“We have had a tendency on this committee to almost chastise others because we did feel a little beaten up. What I would like to see is, maybe we could leave that behind and just stop that, because all it does is give us fuel for fodder inside, feeling that as a committee we’re not recognized.

“Bringing up positivity and maintaining it will allow us to be a little bit more clear-minded, and will allow us to portray that to other entities and organizations. As a result, it brings a greater cohesiveness.

“This is the first time in a year that I have really heard we are willing to work with other organizations and talk and not knee-jerk with things we hear, even if they’re wrong. If we have to respond, it should be very factual and we should take the emotions out of it.”

“That’s a good point and I will need to work on that,” Hart responded. “It’s just hard when you see all the committee members working so hard on volunteer time, and you have people who don’t want to learn any facts, they just want to attack us. I get pretty upset. I should work on that, but you know, we’re all just volunteers who want to help our community.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to get that information out there,” TTC member C. K. Patel added, “or it’s hard to get them to look at it, because if you actually look at it, we’ve increased tourism over the last three years during the worst recession since the Great Depression, and, for us to do that when Durango’s going down, means we’re actually spending our money wisely and doing the right thing, otherwise we wouldn’t get that result, but how do we get the message out? How do we get people to see it?”

Jon Johnson, of the TTC’s wayfinding and signage sub-committee, agreed with Boone’s argument for reaching out and collaborating with other groups, and described a meeting his sub-committee had the day before.

“Each of us needs to be ambassadors beyond meeting at this table. Yesterday, we had a wayfinding and signage meeting and Mike was there, and Courtney, and it was totally great to see them and have them involved.” Johnson was referring to Mike Musgrove, chairman of the Parks and Recreation commission, and local architect Courtney King.

“I would much rather have a meeting and work issues out. Our meetings are open, and within three minutes of them coming into the room, they felt totally comfortable and they realized that we’re not the bad guys. It was very positive. It was really cool to see that cooperation blossom.”

On April 23, the town will hold a special election that will contain this question, “Shall the town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter be amended to require an affirmative vote of a majority of the registered electors of the town voting thereon approving the construction or operation of any amusement ride in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area, as set forth in ordinance no. 781?”

Should this ballot issue pass, a section will be added to the Home Rule Charter that will read, “No construction or operation of any amusement ride shall take place in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area unless the question of doing so has been submitted to and approved by a majority of the town’s registered electors voting thereon. ‘Amusement ride’ shall be defined as any mechanized device, or combination of devices which carry or convey persons along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course for the purpose of giving passengers excitement, amusement or pleasure. Amusement rides include, but are not limited to, roller coasters, Ferris wheels, go-karts, chairlifts, gravity-propelled rides and rope-tows. Amusement rides do not include non-motorized playground equipment or personal recreation equipment such as skis and bicycles.”