Follow the Water. Resource-responsible Development from the “outside-in”

Mayfly Outdoors. Corporate building and fly fishing pond. Montrose CO. (Kathryn R. Burke)

[July 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage] By Kathryn R. Burke

 TWO DIFFERENT MEN, actor Dennis Weaver and entrepreneur David Dragoo, half a century apart, yet both with a common vision: benevolent use of our natural resources for building healthy communities. For Weaver, it was Ouray County. For Dragoo, 27 years later, it is Montrose County. For both, it was and is a successful exercise in preserving our land and water for recreation and enjoyment while creating community living spaces.

Weaver was best known for his roles in Gunsmoke and McCloud, but at heart he was an avid environmentalist. In 1988, he built his home, an environmentally-friendly ‘Earthship’ in Ouray County, Colorado, near Ridgway. Four years later, he purchased a 175-acre parcel along the Uncompahgre River corridor, vowing to conserve a major portion of it for public recreational use and as a wildlife and riparian conservation area. He was 68 years old.

Dragoo, 33, is president of Colorado Outdoors LLC, a mixed-use development company focused on the 164-acre revitalization of the northern end of Montrose encompassing nearly 1.5 miles of the Uncompahgre river corridor. One of Dragoo’s first self-imposed tasks, after the property was acquired over a multi-year period, was to make certain the river frontage would remain an open recreational trail and designate its path to accommodate a critical habitat of blue herons, just like his famous predecessor, fostering benevolent usage of our natural resources.

Yes, there will be more development here. Yes, the area is growing. It’s inevitable. And yes, these men, one older, one younger, and both visionaries, saw the need to help direct that growth. “People are going to move here, regardless,” noted Dragoo, a Colorado native who moved to Montrose in 2015. “This is a beautiful area with excellent recreational and employment potential. Wouldn’t you like to help direct that growth, to choose who your neighbors will be? To help your community grow in positive ways?”

“I call it developing from the outside in.”

Dragoo is doing it by creating “a compelling environment: a healthy place to work, live, and play with a strong sense of community.” His business interests purchased a 164-acres of farmland along the Uncompahgre River with a view toward preserving river frontage for recreational use. Colorado Outdoors donated over 41 acres to the City to preserve the river corridor in perpetuity. The remainder will be used for commercial, industrial, and residential development. “I call it developing from the outside in,” he explained.

The entire project is part of the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority (MURA), a tax-increment financing district and federally-qualified ‘Opportunity Zone’, formally established in late 2017 to attract investment and revitalize rural communities across the United States.

New 2.25-mile concrete recreation trail, just past Mayfly Outdoors.

New 2.25-mile concrete recreation trail, just past Mayfly Outdoors, offers opportunities for hiking, biking, and dog-walking. (Kathryn R. Burke)

As for the river trail, and the recreation opportunity it offers, the long-range plan entails continuous access from Ouray through the State Park to the north end of Montrose.

Why is the river trail so important? Well, because it’s pretty, it’s accessible, and it’s fun. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, over 71% of Coloradans participate in outdoor recreation. And a lot of that involves water: boating, SUPing, rafting, fly fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and just plain water-watching.

The river trail is already accessible from Ouray and Ridgway to the northernmost end of Ridgway State Park. It picks up again in the city of Montrose, passing through Riverbottom Park to the new Recreation Center on the City’s south side, where it connects to the new 2.25-mile concrete recreation trail concluding just past Mayfly Outdoors.

(The MURA development was awarded the 2019 Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence and selected as the Best Urban Renewal Project in the state at the recent Downtown Colorado, Inc. conference.

Why is resource development important here? According to Pew Research, small, rural communities like those in Ouray and Montrose counties are shrinking as farming and some mining jobs disappear. Eager to attract “Opportunity Zone” investment, small communities will “need savvy marketing and other incentives to move forward.” Colorado Outdoors’ mixed-use development preserving natural resources, along with anchor tenant Mayfly Outdoors, a consortium of manufacturers of fly fishing equipment, puts Montrose squarely on the growth map. Dragoo’s careful direction will make sure that growth is resource-responsible, creating a healthy, inviting place to live. And, as a further consideration of wildlife conservation, Mayfly Outdoors contributes 10% of all fishing reel sales to the protection of wildlife and fishing habitats.

Uncompahgre Riverwalk, Dennis Weaver Park. Ridgway CO. (Kathryn R. Burke)

Weaver did it by approving 95 of his 175 acres for low-density, low impact residential development. The result was RiverSage, finalized after his death and composed of 20, two-acre view lots and tons of green Open Space. The conservation area became the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park, a much-appreciated park used by residents and visitors and designated as one of Ouray County’s top attractions.

Weaver is gone now, but his family, through his son, RiverSage developer Rick Weaver, is determined to “carry out my father’s wishes, so we (the family) reduced the number of developable residential lots in our final phase for a total of 16, expanding our father’s Memorial Park from 60 to 80 acres, making it the  largest in Ouray County. It is populated by a wide variety of wildlife and enjoyed by hikers, bikers, backpackers, picnickers, and artists who participate in a plein air art event held there on the first Saturday each  October.

The same habitats Dragoo’s program protects are also the lifeblood of the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park and adjoining stretch of the Uncompahgre River Trail that runs from the ‘Eagle’ to the town’s old railroad bridge. The path is popular with bikers, hikers, and the occasional black bear that gives walkers a pause. Fishermen enjoy the Mayfly products when fishing from bank or river.

Seasonal wildflowers populate the river banks, and in spring, tiny goslings learn to float under the watchful eye of mama geese. Hikers often encounter deer and elk (mostly friendly accept in rutting season or when protecting their young). The park also teems with plenty of small animals, like the rabbits, which feed the bigger ones, like the foxes. The park is an active food chain! The waters are home to salmon (which run in the spring), trout, and other fish (available till the river freezes); and a variety of waterfowl including ducks, geese, and the great blue heron, which like to dine on the smaller fish. Hawks and eagles—golden and bald—also frequent the park.

Backpackers and hikers like to follow the old Stagecoach Trail, which leads up through RiverSage to Boot Hill. Walking and bike trails line both sides of the river, with two crossing points—one at the railroad bridge near town, the other, RiverSage Drive, which crosses the river near the spectacular Eagle sculpture,

Biking the Uncompahgre Riverway Trail, which stretches from the town of Ridgway, through the Dennis Weaver Park, and past the Ridgway State Park. (James Burke)

This 80-acre public park is a permanent wildlife preserve along the lush Uncompahgre River corridor and is at the entrance to Dennis Weaver’s eco-friendly RiverSage Subdivision surrounded by 130 acres of open green space including the park.

Construction must adhere to design and architectural guidelines, which blend with the landscape and surrounding terrain. Together, the Park and RiverSage offer a magical place of respite and relaxation. As with the Colorado Outdoors project, a river runs through it; follow the water, and you, too, will find your perfect place to put down roots.*

Each two-acre lot in RiverSage has a spectacular view of the mountains, the majestic  San Juan “Sneffels” range to the south, Dallas Divide to the west, and the Courthouse Formation and Cimarron Range to the east.

The Weavers have just opened the final phase of the development—eight new lots—for pre-sales.  Official sales begin in the fall. (See map and ad below.)