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Ridgway Visitor Center and Heritage Park to be revamped

planned information signs at Heritage Park in Ridgway

The Town of Ridgway and the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce (RACC) released a Strategic Master Plan for Ridgway Visitor Center and Heritage Park on Friday, June 14. The plan includes two options for the southwest corner of the intersection of Highways 550 and 62, a site at the entrance to the town currently occupied by the Ridgway Visitor Center and Ridgway Railroad Museum. The property is known as Heritage Park.

Both plan options for Heritage Park and Visitor Center maintain features that are reminiscent of Ridgway's railroad history. Besides a series of attractive pathways and a xeric garden, amenities include a new, larger Ridgway gateway sign near the highway intersection, and a photo opportunity area and marker where family and friends can stand on a railroad trestle and take a scenic photo capturing a view up the valley with the San Juan Mountains as a backdrop.

The options also feature a large climbing boulder and nature-play themed tot lot including a series of smaller boulders, logs and stumps. A large Visitors Center sign will direct travelers to the center, which will have renovated, accessible restrooms, a picnic area, and improved parking. Plus, activity-themed informational signage will offer information on historic and local attractions.

While the first option consists of less-expensive retrofitted storage containers to serve as information kiosks available year-round, even when the Visitor Center is unstaffed, the second option envisions a new Visitor Center building that would provide additional services and amenities but require year-round staff.

“The property is a key gateway piece for our town and community. It is how the world first sees Ridgway coming from the north and south on Highway 550, and it can set the tone and theme for the local and visitor experience here, providing another great public space for locals to congregate, sharing our culture and heritage, and introducing visitors to our town and local businesses,” said Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates. “We first needed to establish a vision and plan for the space and then we will explore opportunities for realizing the improvements in the short and longer terms, based on the priorities of the town.”

Since the Railroad Museum decided to move to a new location at 200 North Railroad Street, the Town and Chamber have been considering how the former museum site could remain a valuable visitor attraction. A majority of the train cars have been relocated to the museum’s new location, and the plan is to move the indoor displays there by summer 2020. The Visitor Center remaining on the site is in a 73-year-old building, and the park has minimal amenities and landscaping. Center visitor numbers dropped from 6,000 in 2017 to 4,500 in 2018, with future projections of a continued decrease in numbers.

DHM Design was hired by the Town and Chamber this spring to facilitate the creation of a strategic plan for a redesign of the Visitor Center and Heritage Park. Working with staff from DHM’s Durango office, the town hosted two public meetings to gather community input about what amenities should be included on the site.

DHM has worked on streetscape, park and gateway monument projects in key locations for attracting the attention of passers-by in several southwest Colorado communities such as Naturita, Nucla, Norwood, and Cortez. The Ridgway Streetscape completed in 2017 was one of their designs, which not only included paved roads and sidewalks but also created gathering spaces, traffic and pedestrian flow, and featured site furnishings designed by various artists.

“Getting people to stop at Ridgway Heritage Park and Visitors Center would increase the foot traffic not only of the park itself, but can also let people know of the attractions offered in downtown. Increasing visibility and awareness serves to increase visitation and can boost the local economy as the tourism sector of the Town grows,” DHM Principal Walker Christensen said. “Having a key gateway area into a community can have long-range effects on the town—it can beautify the space, which can increase land values; it can boost the local economy by attracting more stops at local businesses; and it can offer local residents some additional amenities not currently being provided in the community—such as the climbing boulder feature. It is your first impression of the Town.”

The total estimated cost of the first option with retrofitted storage containers is approximately $746,055, while the second option with a new Visitor Center is estimated at $1,219,430. A list of potential funding sources is provided in the Strategic Plan.

“Due to the cost of the redesign, a phasing plan was created that identifies top priorities. Phase 1 includes: site clean-up, landscape design and irrigation, visitor information signs, accessible bathrooms, and more,” RACC Manager Hilary Lewkowitz said. “The timing of construction phases of different park elements may vary as funding is acquired. The Town will utilize funding from the Department of Local Affairs’ Colorado Main Street Program to create construction drawings for landscape design, visitor information signs and the photo opportunity area. The RACC will be applying for a CTO grant to create content and layout design for the visitor information signs.”