Commission passes on proposing zip line


Staff Writer

Conspicuously absent from the agenda for today’s Pagosa Springs town council meeting is any mention of the zip-line proposal for Reservoir Hill.

Town Tourism Committee director Jennie Green was present at last week’s meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission to ask if that board would be interested in recommending the project to town council.

Last April, town voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the town’s Home Rule Charter blocking the council from installing or operating any mechanized recreational amenity on Reservoir Hill without first conducting a successful vote of the people.

This was in response to a proposal put forth by the TTC to develop the park as a tourist attraction that would include several rides such as a chairlift, an alpine coaster, a treetop zip-line and a tethered hot air balloon.

At the time, Christine Funk, one of the board members for a grass roots organization called the Friends of Reservoir Hill, explained the charter amendment vote wasn’t calling for a ban on all amenities on the hill; it was simply a way to make sure the citizens had a say in what was done.

At a TTC meeting shortly after the charter was successfully changed, TTC member Jim Smith suggested taking the idea of a zip-line course to the voters. Several other TTC members agreed, but the TTC never officially made the recommendation to town council.

On several occasions since then, Green has argued the TTC never advocated one way or the other for the Reservoir Hill development proposal, but had simply been directed by town council to conduct research and develop a feasibility study for the concept.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Green presented the P&RC with a business plan the TTC had received several years ago from Full Blast Adventure Center, a zip-line operation based in Durango.

“I don’t want you guys to think this is the only option,” Green explained. “This was submitted two and a half years ago. The industry has evolved quite a bit since then. The town would benefit from bidding it out again. I think there are many operators who would be interested.”

While P&RC chairman Mike Musgrove asked for a discussion of the pros and cons of the zip-line idea, P&RC Director Tom Carosello quickly pointed out that town council was not looking for a recommendation either way from the commission.

Town council member Kathie Lattin, who was present at the meeting to discuss another item (the proposed community recreation center), confirmed there was no directive from town council to make a decision. They simply wanted to know if anyone would step forward to champion the cause.

There were no takers.

P&RC member John Steinert, who was unable to attend the Jan. 15 meeting, provided his comments via e-mail. SUN staff was later able to obtain a copy of that e-mail.

“It sounds like there will be a private contractor who operates the zip line,” Steinert began. “I am not in favor of allowing full-time private operations on the hill. I think it would conflict with our duty to preserve and maintain our parks for public use. I worry that the concessionaire would impose rules that would affect the other activities in the park.”

Steinert went on to express concerns about the precedent this project would set, the footprint it would have on the hill and the legal liability issues it would expose the town to.

“I think we will end up having to keep everyone from below the zip lines for liability reasons,” Steinert continued. “This means that anywhere the zip-line crosses a trail, there will be a conflict. Will the trail be closed? Do we know the location of the zip line? Will there be a ticket office/concession stand on the hill? It seems that the hill will be really commercialized if we begin allowing these types of operations.”

Steinert advocated for continuing to allow private vendors to operate on the hill on a temporary basis, such as what occurs during the music festivals or similar short-term events.

“Having said that,” Steinert concluded, “I guess the real question is do we support putting it on the ballot in April? My position is that I would like to see the P&RC vote to recommend to Town Council that no long-term private contractors be allowed to lease a portion of Reservoir Hill. All concessions granted by the town should remain temporary, as they are now.”

The rest of the P&RC agreed with Steinert and decided to let the matter die.

If any private citizen would like to see the matter on the ballot this April, they would need to talk to April Hessman, town clerk, about circulating a petition, but the deadline to get such a petition turned in with the proper number of signatures is the end of this month.