Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Animas River Trail in Winter-Durango

The Animas River Trail is about seven miles of paved all season trail along the scenic Animas River in Durango, Colorado. The route began to take shape in the 1970s and continues to lengthen as the years go by.
I started my hike at the Santa Rita Park and hiked north. The Santa Rita Park is a short distance south of the junction of Highway 550 and Highway 160 on the west side of 550. This is an easy access if you are arriving in Durango from the west. There is a visitor information center at Santa Rita Park and also a Whitewater Park. During the summer months kayaks and rafts are frequently visible in this area.
There are many interpretive signs along the trail. North of Santa Rita is a view of Smelter Mountain and the site of the San Juan and New York Smelter that opened in 1882. The smelter closed in 1930, only to reopen during World War II for Uranium and Vanadium processing. All the buildings and tailings were removed by 1992. It is possible to hike to the top of Smelter Mountain from trails a little further south.

In 2011, the historic Durango Power Plant has been restored and converted into the Discovery Museum. The emphasis of the displays is hands on science activity for children, but the historic boiler room and examples of the historic machinery are also on dislplay.
The segment near the historic Main Street Bridge and Rotary Park has several interesting features. The trail crosses a bridge that is parallel to a Durango to Silverton rail line bridge and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has a facility just north of the bridge.

There is a short nature trail leading into the Wildlife facility which includes a hatchery for Cutthroat Trout. The nature trail has interpretive signs explaining the importance of riparian, or stream side habitat. There is also a display on Elk with an interpretive sign explaining the activity for each season.

In winter, the elk descend from the high country to lower elevation pastures, where they sometimes find traditional areas now covered with houses.

The Colorado Cutthroat is a true native of Colorado while the Rainbow Trout is an import from the Pacific Northwest. This display is only a short distance off the main trail.

There are several examples of public art along the Animas River Trail. The sunflower is just south of the parallel trail and railroad bridges. There is also a colorful Trout Wall art work south of the Main Street Bridge.
It took me 1:30 hours to arrive at the Durango Recreation Center, the north end of the west side trail branch. It is possible to go a little further north on the east side branch. My total hike took 3:10 hours including a lunch stop near the Durango to Silverton Train Station. I hiked for 7 or 8 miles on a sunny and mild 36 F late December day. There were many joggers and dog walkers and a few bike riders also enjoying the trail during my hike.

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