Glenwood aims to settle future of South Canyon
Glenwood Springs may look to add some polish to a gem in the rough – the giant piece of land it owns in South Canyon.A college project is expected to lead to discussions about how the city could make better use of the area west of town. The city bought more than 2,000 acres there in 1956.Two University of Denver students have created several conceptual plans for South Canyon. Some tentative ideas include picnic areas, bathrooms, a dog park, fitness trails, a camping area, and an interpretative path in the old coal camp area.City parks and recreation director Leon Kuhn said he expects students to further refine ideas early this year, with community meetings to follow. But any development of the area could be a few years away, he said.For now, “It’s just kind of ‘here’s the land, let’s take a look at it, what are the possibilities, what are some of the opportunities that might fit in the area?'” Kuhn said.The increased focus is being met with excitement by a longtime advocate of the area, and by some concern by one of the users of a gun range that has the potential to be relocated elsewhere in South Canyon under one proposal.”It sounds like they’re going to actually get a strategic plan … which is good, it’s a first step,” said Jim Olp.Olp works in Golden but said his heart is still in Glenwood Springs, and specifically South Canyon.”I’ve walked every square foot of that place,” he said. “I still have practically an entire cabinet drawer full of files on South Canyon.”John Lindsey, of Glenwood Springs, has done his fair share of shooting at South Canyon, and said the current gun range would be hard to duplicate.”It’s such an ideal location for sporting clays,” he said.Lindsey said the varied terrain at the shooting range is ideal for simulating different flight patterns, such as a bird coming off a hill. Designers of many other gun ranges have to build towers, dig trenches and otherwise alter the landscape to imitate what Glenwood’s gun range offers naturally, he said.The sport of shooting clays is taking off, and local enthusiasts have been approached about hosting a state event that could attract hundreds of people, Lindsey said. He thinks shooting adds to the recreational diversity that makes the Glenwood Springs area a tourist attraction.”This is an amenity that has a lot of potential,” he said.South Canyon also has been all about diversity over the years, some good and some bad. The city landfill takes up some of the acreage, but people also dump illegally elsewhere in the area. Illegal shooting also takes place in South Canyon outside the shooting range.The bottom of the city’s land extends into the Colorado River area of South Canyon, which attracts kayakers, rafters and anglers. South Canyon plans could dovetail with hopes of building a recreational trail along the river in South Canyon, and perhaps someday creating a whitewater park there.Up the canyon a bit lie hot spring pools that have a colorful past. In past decades the city used to destroy them to discourage their use.South Canyon boasts a popular sledding hill. Also up the canyon is a coal seam where a long-simmering underground fire ignited brush at the surface in 2002, causing a blaze that quickly spreading toward Glenwood and destroyed some 30 homes. Since then, the city and other authorities have been trying to take on a South Canyon weed problem that makes the area more fire-prone. The coal seam also presents a danger to hikers in the vicinity.Nearby, a coal camp that was home to more than 300 people in the early 1900s stands deserted now. But South Canyon still teems with life. Besides human visitors, Olp has seen mink, bobcats, bears, mountain lions, elk, deer and other animals.Olp finds the area’s history as fascinating as its wildlife. He said he and Mike Pelletier, a former city planner in Glenwood, spent a lot of time in South Canyon, looking at things such as historic sites.”Mike mapped all of that stuff. He certainly put his heart and soul into it,” Olp said.Olp worried that after he and Pelletier left town, “nobody was left to fight the fight. But it sounds like somebody was.”Linda Johnson and Meredith Schildwachter, student interns for DU’s Colorado Center for Community Development, undertook the conceptual planning for South Canyon.One conceptual proposal would move the shooting range near the landfill to concentrate these more disruptive uses all in one area. Kuhn said if people want the shooting range to stay where it is, noise mitigation measures may be needed for the benefit of other South Canyon visitors.The range also is used for target practice by local police.Olp said he doesn’t object to the shooting range. It’s legal and located in a remote area, he said.He said one concern about making improvements to South Canyon is that it would lose some of its undeveloped qualities. But it sounds as if many of the proposed projects would be down by South Canyon Road and the river, in areas that already are being abused, he said.”That may be a really good solution for the abuse,” he said.The hot springs pools could create their own challenge. Olp said the city used to try to destroy the pools because of liability and health issues. But hot springs users repeatedly rebuilt the pools.”The water is real, it’s not going to go away. Maybe the city needs to look at doing something with that hot springs as part of this project,” he said.Kuhn said if South Canyon is developed, a time may come when the pools may need more patrolling.If South Canyon ever needed some onsite staffing, it wouldn’t be hard to persuade Olp to return to Glenwood Springs.”To be honest I really would love to be a ranger up there. To me that would be an ideal job,” he said.
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