Rockwood residents are concerned another summer filled with heavy traffic from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad will overburden infrastructure and disrupt life in the quiet subdivision about 14 miles north of Durango.
Residents of Rockwood Estates and Rockwood Village will hold a neighborhood-organized meeting at 10 a.m. Friday in the meeting room of the Valley Clubhouse at the Glacier Club to draw attention to the problems.
They have invited representatives from D&SNG, La Plata County commissioners, and staff members and representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It’s just not appropriate that trains depart from here,” said Mary Muller-Ball, president of the Rockwood Village Homeowners Association board of directors. “The Rockwood Station doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate the number of people that are now using it. It’s about the road. It’s about luring tourists out here. It’s about safety. It’s about fire.”
John McAward, president of the Rockwood Estates Homeowners Association board of directors, said trash from crowds last season was more than a nuisance – with smokers dropping cigarette butts onto dry pine needles, it was a fire hazard.
“Several years ago, one of our neighbors tried to do a wedding venue down here, and she was asking for 30 to 40 people on a weekend to come down. It was denied by the county because the county road (County Road 200) already exceeded the capacity to have that much traffic,” he said.
He wonders why the same standards are not applied to D&SNG’s trains.
“If a neighbor was declined for 30 cars several years ago, we’re asking the commission how in the world is the train able to run three trains with 200 people each without a county permit, no land-use change, nothing,” he said. “All of a sudden this is done under the guise of COVID.”
McAward said food trucks and passengers holding picnics before boarding trains attracted bears to the area last year, a problem he expects will return.
Last year, McAward said residents were told by county commissioners that use of the Rockwood Station to board passengers would be confined to one season, “but now they are doubling down.”
Jeff Johnson, D&SNG general manager, said he will attend the meeting.
“We have every intention of sitting down and listening to any issues people are concerned about,” he said.
The executives from the train were in contact with residents last year to try to address concerns raised by residents, and he said every effort will be taken this year, as well, to ameliorate problems.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to be a good neighbor and to be a part of the conversation,” he said.
Johnson said he did not want to comment about particular issues, but he wanted to wait for the meeting to see what issues emerged “so we can work on them together when we talk to everybody.”
County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said County Manager Chuck Stevens will represent the county at the meeting. She added concerns of residents need to be addressed.
“The concerns are legitimate, and the county is going to go to the meeting on Friday to assess the situation and then determine any options, if any, from there,” she said. “I certainly think that we’re hearing from neighbors on this, I’m reading the letters to the editor. So we’re fully aware of the situation.”
Stevens and county officials will begin to search for solutions to problems identified at Friday’s meeting, she said.
Porter-Norton said she visited the area this past weekend, and right now, the county is in the mode of gathering information and listening to stakeholders involved.
“I’m not prepared right now to say what course of action the county would take, but we are paying attention closely to the situation,” she said.
Johnson said D&SNG will continue to use the Rockwood Station, but it wants to minimize problems neighbors have identified.
“We will be continuing to do operations out of Rockwood, although that will change a little bit as we progress back to our Silverton schedule,” he said. “But we do have every intention of continuing to operate out of Rockwood. But obviously, we want to work with the community to make sure that its impact is as appropriate as it can be.”