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Liquid highways for family adventures -- the Four Corners Paddle Trails Project

Organizers aim to designate stretches of local rivers as National Water Trails

By Molly Maxwell For The Daily Times

UPDATED: 06/19/2013 03:14:30 PM MDT


Marcel Bieg paddles on the Animas River June 13 with the San Juan Mountains as a backdrop. (Molly Maxwell Special to The Daily Times)

FARMINGTONWhether you want to take your family on an easy afternoon float down the river or travel for a couple of days in a kayak with friends, the Four Corners area offers plenty of resources for fun on a river.

The Four Corners Paddle Trail Project is aimed at enhancing the opportunities for outdoor recreation on local rivers. The initiative designates stretches of river as National Water Trails.

The project is working specifically on the Animas River from Hermosa, Colo., to where it intersects the San Juan River in Farmington, as well as the stretch of the San Juan River from Navajo Lake Dam to Kirtland.

When complete, the project will make boating and rafting down the rivers on one day or multiple days more accessible with established campsites along the banks, improved river access sites, boat ramps and routes marked with signs and maps available to help plan the ideal trip.

Kent Ford, an American Canoe Association instructor in Durango, has hoped to see the project begin ever since former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched the National Paddle Trails Program in May 2012.

"The fascinating part is that Durango already has well-developed access points, and Farmington does, too," Ford said. "We want to bring Colorado to the table to link Durango and Farmington for a larger vision. We want to introduce people to their backyard."

Already on board for the project are San Juan County, the cities of Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield and Durango, the River Reach Foundation, San Juan College, Durango Trails 2000, Aztec Trails and Open Space, San Juan Watershed Group, Four Corners Economic Development, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Jack's Plastic Welding and 4 Corners River Sports.

Attila Bality, the outdoor recreation manager for the National Park Service in New


Mexico, is helping with the planning process.

One challenge of the project is to develop stopping areas and signs on the entire water trail to meet the same standards and maintain consistency, a major requirement for the designation. Bality will help ensure that good communication between different land managers and entities involved is taking place throughout the project.

"We are not looking to be a 'Wild and Scenic Waterway,'" said Marcel Bieg, the director of the Outdoor Leadership Education and Recreation Program at San Juan College and another frontrunner of the project. "This would not shut down development. The purpose of the project is to use multi-agency management for community building and connecting the community to the waterways. This is nothing new. It has been done all over the country."

The importance of water as a resource, water recreation safety and conservation of the area around the waterway are some of the primary goals of designating a waterway as a National Water Trail. Cultural and historical information would also be provided to the public.

According to the National Park Service, there are currently no National Water Trails in New Mexico or Colorado. Another big goal of the project is to promote tourism and provide more activities to visitors.

"It is still in its exploratory phase, and we welcome suggestions and concerns from the public," Ford said.

For more information or to get involved in the project, contact Marcel Bieg at biegm@sanjuancollege.edu; Kent Ford at kentford@gobrainstorm.netor Attila Bality at Attila_bality@nps.gov. For more information on National Water Trails, go to nps.gov/watertrails.

Molly Maxwell covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at mollykmaxwell@gmail.com.

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