The blue-green water and steep rock faces at Bakers Bridge have long drawn sunbathers, cliff jumpers and even actors Robert Redford and Paul Newman during the filming of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Locals and visitors alike gather at the bridge as if it was a public recreation area. But the popular hangout 15 miles north of Durango is actually on private property. And a spate of vandalism and increased trespassing this summer raised concern the owners of the private property might restrict access. Then something else happened: Last month, both landowners on the east and west sides of the Animas River put their property on the market.
A fence was installed this week to keep trespassers out.
“I am heartbroken. I’ve held onto it this long because I never knew for sure if I wanted to let it go,” said Al Frink, a California resident who has owned 2 acres on the western riverbank since the 1990s. Frink is the former “manufacturing czar” for the George W. Bush administration.
The Frinks are selling their land for $795,000. Raymond and Christy White of Texas own 2.6 acres on the east side of the river, according to county records. They did not respond to requests for comment. The Wells Group, a real estate agency, said the Whites put the property on the market in late July for $895,000.
Frink’s land, with open rock faces and some wooded areas, has become the main hangout area at Bakers Bridge. On Wednesday, a fence sprang up – restricting access to some of that hangout area and marking private land boundaries.
“It seemed like there was a lot going on there that I wasn’t aware of,” Frink said Thursday. “The fence is one way of showing it’s private property.”
The area has had issues with graffiti, trespassing, trash and safety.
Since June, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has responded to nine calls related to trespassing, graffiti, parking or other issues, said spokesman Chris Burke.
“When you look at a piece of property, you just want to use it. Then after a while, it becomes like you own it,” Frink said. “If that place had been taken care of by locals and out-of-towners ... I was heartbroken when I saw some of the pictures of what people left behind.”
Fences haven’t always been successful at stopping recreation next to the bridge. The last one on Frink’s property was torn down bit by bit, he said. This new fence will keep people out, help the land restore itself and avoid liability issues if people get hurt while swimming.
Some of the remaining open area is likely county right-of-way on either side of East Animas Road (County Road 250), said Megan Graham, county spokeswoman. That land is for road crews – not public access, she said.
Frink was originally drawn to the area for the same reasons that many people like to hang out at Bakers Bridge.
The area has a unique combination of tall pines and a river view, plus it is a historical landmark, he said. (Bakers Bridge is not registered as a La Plata County historical site, but it is a well-known landmark, county staff members said.)
The celadon-colored water is “mesmerizing,” and seeing the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train come around the mountain gives a flavor of the West, Frink said.
“You’d hear the whistle and you see the smoke coming out of the stack ... It was magical,” Frink said.
The last thing Frink wants is to sell the land to someone who will ruin its beauty, he said.
He is hoping to find a new owner who values the landscape. One viable buyer could be a community group, if one forms, with a proposal to buy the land and care for it or make it a park.
“What I don’t like is it being left in hands that are not caring for it lovingly,” Frink said. “I will pass on a sale ... if it’s in the hands of somebody who is going to compromise the beauty of the property. I have the right to say no.”