San Juan County officials still working to cool long-simmering conflict over Tico Time River Resort
Outdoor recreation and live music venue is center of controversy
- The Tico Time River Resort sits on 74 acres in far northern San Juan County just off U.S. Highway 550.
- It offers a full slate of outdoor recreation attractions and live entertainment.
- Some neighbors have complained the the noise generated by the park and the behavior of some of its guests.
Part one of a two-part series
FARMINGTON — The busy summer season is nearing its end at the Tico Time River Resort just off U.S. Highway 550 in far northern San Juan County. That means considerably less activity will occur at the 74-acre RV park and live music venue located along the Animas River within shouting distance of the Colorado border.
But the coming of cold weather doesn't mean there won't continue to be plenty of attention directed toward Tico Time over the next several months.
While the park has brought a new dimension to San Juan County's outdoor recreation and entertainment offerings, attracting tens of thousands of visitors in the process, it also has sparked a battle with some of its neighbors, who maintain the venue has shattered the peace and quiet of their rural neighborhood, ruined their quality of life and even impacted their property value.
Caught in the middle are county officials and law enforcement personnel, who are fielding those complaints and hope they can find a solution to the conflict by the time next summer rolls around and crowds begin flocking to Tico Time once again.
They acknowledge it has been difficult to balance the interests of the neighbors with the desire of Tico Time's ownership to present activities that will draw sizable crowds.
"In San Juan County, we're known for working with people," County Manager Mike Stark said last week while discussing the situation at Tico Time.
That includes trying to accommodate the wishes of citizens who may have complaints about a specific business, as well as trying to avoid placing burdensome regulatory requirements on businesses that are trying to grow, he said.
Those often-competing interests seem to have run headlong into each other at Tico Time this summer.
"We want to make sure folks can coexist," he said. "We're not afraid to go meet with people. I've had numerous conversations with citizens that have called (about Tico Time), good conversations. We're taking a look at the tools in the toolbag we can use to address this, and those have all been positive conversations. I know this hasn't moved fast enough for some of those folks, but we do want to be careful. … It's about maintaining a good quality of life for them."
When the trouble started
Tico Time has been operating since the summer of 2020, but the park's inaugural season went by without incident. Owner Rob Holmes describes the property as a multimillion-dollar investment on his part, one that includes the construction of two stages, swimming ponds with sand beaches, restrooms and hand-washing stations, a dog park and a rock-climbing wall. Tico Time also offers a zip line, paddle boarding, a Bungee Cord jump, disc golf, beach volleyball and water slides in addition to its RV hookups and camping sites.
Its neighbors have no complaint with any of those attractions. In fact, those who have lodged the most complaints about the business say they initially were happy to hear an RV park was moving into the area, figuring an establishment like that would fit in well with the quiet, rural nature of their neighborhood, which goes by the name of Riverside and is located approximately a quarter mile south of Tico Time.
And during that first season, they say, there was no conflict. Tico Time periodically offered live music, but it always ended by 9:30 p.m., and that seemed to be acceptable to everyone.
But when Tico Time ramped up its live music offerings this spring, the situation changed dramatically. In late April, the park began presenting a series of multiple-day music festivals that attracted large crowds and offered live or recorded music that continued until 3 or 4 a.m., in some cases. The unruly behavior of some park visitors also became increasingly worrisome to neighbors.
The River of Souls Festival, an electronica festival that took place May 20-22, was especially troublesome, leading the San Juan County Sheriff's Office to be deluged with complaints. Days later, 10 nearby residents showed up at the May 25 San Juan County Commission meeting to vent. Citizens complained about music being played so loud that it rattled their windowpanes, kept them awake most of the night and scared off all the wildlife in the area.
They said they had seen Tico Time customers urinate in public, leave behind trash and go nude in public. There were also various accounts of a woman who had been ejected from Tico Time showing up in the neighborhood, acting in a belligerent fashion and attempting to break into a trailer before being arrested.
Holmes was at the meeting, as well, and apologized for the issues residents were complaining about. He promised changes would be made to address their concerns and said Tico Time hoped to be a good neighbor.
He acknowledged in an interview with The Daily Times on Sept. 24 that the River of Souls Festival had been "a complete disaster" and said he had no idea how loud the music would be. Holmes described himself as a relative newcomer to the music business and said this summer has been a learning experience for him in many ways.
"That will never happen again," Holmes said of the loudness of the music at that festival. "It was terrible. I couldn't sleep myself. My wife and I were pissed off. But I couldn't get the DJs to turn down."
By most accounts, the next two months went by more smoothly. The park's fireworks shows that had been taking place late in the night, at the conclusion of the musical entertainment, were moved to 9:30 p.m., and many of Tico Time's music offerings took place in the afternoon or evening, wrapping up at a reasonable hour.
But the conflict worsened again in August with the arrival of several multiple-day festivals on successive weekends. Neighbors once again complained about the noise, particularly the park's habit of playing amplified live or recorded music until 3 a.m. in some cases.
"I think that's when the rubber hit the road," San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari said, pointing to when the situation began to boil over.
When the Unison Festival took place Sept. 9-12, neighbors were outraged by the behavior of some Tico Time guests.
Bob Shindledecker, who has lived in the neighborhood for 39 years and whose riverfront property is just across the river from Tico Time's Magic Forest campground, was perhaps the most exasperated resident.
"It's just a nightmare living here," he said, describing how many of the park's patrons were bathing nude in the river, openly urinating and defecating, and traipsing across his property, despite the prominent "No trespassing" signs he has posted.
"I've about wore my phone out calling the cops," he said.
Retrieving his video recorder, Shindledecker showed a reporter some footage he claimed he had shot the week of the Unison Festival. It features what appears to be a bearded man emerging nude from the Animas River in the middle of the day, casually toweling himself off as he walks up a dirt road to the campground.
Shindledecker said he has been trying to sell his property but has had no luck because of the issues associated with Tico Time. He said he recently held an open house for the property, and a couple with two young children came to look at it. When Shindledecker pulled his vehicle into his driveway after the couple and the real estate agent had left, he said he saw another man standing nude in the middle of the river. He feared the family had seen the man and ruled out purchasing his property.
Shindledecker estimated he has placed 200 calls over the course of the summer to the sheriff's office, as well as many others to Holmes himself.
Another frequent caller has been Judy Bryson, who has lived on a nearby two-acre plot with her husband Lynn for 24 years. Like Shindledecker, she and her husband are exasperated with the situation and are tired of waiting for the county to take action.
"I speak with the county manager or the County Commission every other week, and they keep putting me off," she said, explaining that she has run out of patience.
"I believe if one of the county commissioners lived out here and had to put up with this, this would move along a lot faster," she said.
Lynn Bryson shook his head in disgust as he chimed in.
"Look around you — do you think we moved out here to be in a concert venue?" he asked rhetorically. "We had no idea this was coming."
No immediate remedy
According to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, the agency has had 62 incidents reported in regard to Tico Time since May 1, while deputies reported in 26 emails that they have received some kind of complaint about the park, often from multiple parties about multiple incidents. The volume of calls decreased sharply after May, but the number recently has increased again, according to the Sheriff's Office, mostly from two residents.
What Shindledecker and the Brysons have been told repeatedly is that law enforcement personnel are powerless to do anything about the noise coming from Tico Time because the county has no ordinance against it.
Ferrari is sympathetic to the complaints of residents, but he said there is no immediate remedy available.
"The difficult part we had as a law enforcement agency is we had no law to enforce," he said.
Ferrari, the county manager and County Commissioner Steve Lanier, whose District III includes Tico Time and the Riverside neighborhood, said the lack of an ordinance controlling noise is typical of the rural lifestyle. They emphasized that Tico Time is operating within the letter of the law.
"Most folks who live in the (nonurban parts of the) county have a pretty low regulatory tolerance," Stark said. "That's why they live in the county. So we lack zoning that could be used as a tool and that would have noise limits built in."
Ferrari said the lack of a noise ordinance is an implicit tradeoff that comes with the rural lifestyle.
"That's one of the freedoms of living the county," he said.
Stark and Lanier said if a groundswell of support for a noise ordinance emerges, the County Commission could take action to enact such a measure. But neither one favors that option at this point, arguing that it would be a law that would be targeted at a single business and might generate some unintended consequences, perhaps impacting oil and gas activity. Their fear is that such an ordinance would serve as a sledgehammer when a flyswatter is what is needed.
Stark suggested a better option might be for the commission to adopt an ordinance requiring establishments such as Tico Time to obtain a special events license for their concerts that limit the volume of amplified sound between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
As for the way some Tico Time patrons have acted over the course of the summer, Ferrari said he usually is powerless to do anything about it unless one of his deputies happens to be on the scene and witnesses the behavior. He said he doesn't doubt that the multiple reports of nudity, public urination and trespassing that he has received are true, but his deputies would have a very difficult time making an arrest stick without having witnessed such acts personally.
"I certainly don't have the manpower to stick a deputy down there all the time," he said.
That doesn't mean Ferrari is simply throwing up his hands. He has encouraged residents to call him personally with their complaints, and he said he would like to see Tico Time management take greater responsibility for policing the actions of the park's guests.
He also said he doesn't believe that neighbors are being unreasonable for being upset about being subjected to amplified music until 3 or 4 a.m. on some occasions.
"I hear you," he said. "I'm completely in agreement on that. I completely understand."
Ferrari said his staff has been working with the District Attorney's Office to explore how the state's public nuisance law might apply to some of the issues associated with Tico Time, though no clarity has emerged so far. The sheriff said that law typically is applied to establishments that sell alcohol, something Tico Time doesn't do. But that doesn't automatically mean the law couldn't be applied to the park, he said.
Next: Tico Time owner Rob Holmes responds to the complaints of neighbors and says he has changes planned for next summer.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.