As Southwest Colorado’s decades-long economic evolution from resources extraction and ranching to recreational, historical and agricultural tourism and retirement communities continues, towns are embracing efforts to take advantage of the region’s stunning vistas and terrain to aid the transition.
“A lot of towns understand to move to tourist-based economies, they need attractive places for people to stop and have a picnic. Trails and trail systems are important. We want to promote plans for young families to stop, and that promotes economic vibrancy,” said Ann Christensen of DHM Design in Durango.
DHM Design led the effort to plan for 50 acres of open space in Three Springs and created plans to incorporate detention ponds and storm runoff terrain into a walkable network of trails.
“We wanted to take something functional, a detention pond, and make it attractive. You can do it impersonally, a square pond separated from the community by a chain-link fence, but we wanted to design it in a way that was visually interesting and that spurred recreation. When herons moved in, we knew we had created a great environment,” said Walker Christensen, Ann’s husband and partner.
DHM also worked on utility corridors in Three Springs to integrate walking paths with utility rights of way and natural wetland flows associated with the storm runoff system and the detention pond.
Marrying natural aesthetics with functional utility functions created a network of paths now popular with pedestrians.
“We tried to create safe, shallow spaces where kids can splash around in,” Christensen said.
Tim Zink, real estate portfolio manager for the Growth Fund Real Estate Group, said DHM landscape architects were brought in to create functional spaces for the development that were also visually appealing and preserved a good natural feel.
“We took the natural surroundings of our area and tried to integrate their features into our development on a human scale,” Zink said.
He noted sandstone features used as visual highlights throughout Three Springs borrow the angles of ridges in the foothills in the area. Care was taken to preserve and enhance habitat for native species. Runoff channels were kept shallow to prevent erosion.
Besides work at Three Springs, DHM has worked with the city of Cortez to improve its streetscapes, with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center to improve its campus, and with Bayfield and Ignacio school districts to provide more natural aesthetics to school campuses.
Walker Christensen said grants exist to help municipalities integrate natural settings into locales within their jurisdiction including funding from Great Outdoors Colorado, which is funded through lottery sales.
In downtown Ridgway, DHM worked with community to improve the sidewalks, their interconnections and the overall pedestrian appeal of areas in an effort to lure more visitors away from the U.S. Highway 550 corridor.
She said community input was important in designing the pedestrian master plans for the community.
“Not one-size-fits-all when you do this,” she said. “You need close coordination with the community to find out what they want, then you combine that with our technical knowledge.”