Farmington's Riverfest adapting to expected flooding from large snowpacks

Boyd Park, River Reach Landing will serve as festival's two anchors this year

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Riverfest kickoff party takes place at 5 p.m. Friday, May 27, and the festival itself runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 28 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 29.
  • Visit for a full schedule of events.
  • A rapidly melting snowpack in the San Juan Mountains has caused river flows in San Juan County to surge recently.

FARMINGTON — With one of the larger snowpacks in decades melting quickly in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, rivers and streams throughout San Juan County saw a notable increase in flow velocity in the past week as temperatures warmed significantly.

Local residents could soon see the impacts of the increased runoff— especially those planning on attending Riverfest over Memorial Day weekend in Farmington’s Riverparks District.

Organizers of the three-day event — which typically attracts between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors to Berg and Animas parks along the Animas River — had to do some late scrambling to move some events from low-lying areas that are expected to flood in the days ahead.

D’Ann Waters, president of the River Reach Foundation, the nonprofit organization that presents the festival each year, said her group hoped the festival could go on as planned in all its usual locations as late as Tuesday, May 16. But when the foundation board met Wednesday, May 17 and heard from Robert Sterrett, the chief of the Farmington Fire Department about the hazards posed by the rapidly rising river, its members realized the time had come to act.

Cottonwood Landing is close to being flooded by the swollen Animas River on Friday, May 19 in Farmington's Riverparks district.

“All the activities at Rocky Reach Landing, the Berg Park East playground and Archway Court will be moved to River Reach Terrace and Boyd Park,” Waters said, adding that the events planned for Cottonwood Landing also would be relocated.

Rocky Reach Landing and Cottonwood Landing are the two biggest gathering spots on that list and are located across from each other on a stretch of the Animas River that is known to become treacherous during runoff season. Both are sprawling areas lined with brick pavers, but they are only a few feet from the river even during the dry season.

By Friday, May 19, that barrier between water and pavers narrowed to only a few inches in the case of low-lying Cottonwood Landing.

Rocky Reach Landing sits a little higher and was still well above the waterline on May 19. But city officials are not confident it will stay that way. Its plaza traditionally has hosted one of the festival’s big live music stages, a beer garden and several food vendors, but that will not be the case this year.

Instead, Boyd Park — which has not been a part of past Riverfest celebrations — will be put to use. It is located south of Berg Park and Broadway Avenue along South Miller Avenue, but it is part of the Riverparks system.

Assistant city manager Shaña Reeves said the river was running at 6,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Riverparks area on Friday, but that flow was expected to increase to 8,400 cfs soon. She said it was likely that most of Cottonwood Landing and All Veterans Memorial Park would be closed during the festival, although all areas of the Riverparks district remained open on Friday.

The fast-rising Animas River covers the headgates of the Willet Ditch on Friday, May 19 in Farmington's Riverparks district.

The most notable Riverfest attraction that will be impacted by the changes is the annual Duck Race, a fundraising event in which thousands of toy ducks bearing a serial number are released into the Willet Ditch adjacent to Rocky Reach Landing. Riverfest visitors purchase the ducks, and the first ducks to float across the finish line downstream entitle the person holding their number to claim cash prizes.

Waters said it was going to be impossible to hold the event in that format this year. Instead, she said, the foundation board is considering two alternatives — putting all the ducks in the swimming pool at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and drawing the winners or putting the ducks in a large bin and drawing them out.

Other events, such as the festival’s annual antique tractor show, are being cancelled outright, she said.

The Recycled Fashion Show, usually held at Cottonwood Landing, is being moved to the Courtyard by Marriott terrace. The gourd dance presented by the One Nation Gourd Dance Club, initially scheduled for All Veterans Memorial Park, instead will take place at the Farmington Indian Center, 100 W. Elm St. just south of downtown. The festival car show was already moved to Boyd Park this year, Waters said.

Waters and other festival organizers still believed early in the week that the amount of water in the river would remain at a manageable level until after the festival. But that changed when temperatures consistently hit the 80-degree mark in San Juan County over the last few days, sending a torrent of snowmelt into local waterways.

She noted it was impossible to predict how much of All Veterans Memorial Park, Cottonwood Landing, River Reach Landing and other areas would wind up being submerged. But she said the foundation board had to act preemptively to make sure that most of the festival attractions could be held in one form or another.

Low-lying All Veterans Memorial Park in Farmington's Riverparks district is considered one of the areas more vulnerable to the fast-rising waters of the Animas River.

The Animas River in the Riverparks district has its twists and turns, but for the most part, it runs from a northeast-to-southwest orientation. All the activities Riverfest visitors have grown used to seeing on the south and east side of the river in Animas Park are being relocated this year.

The large, dirt parking lot between the Tractor Supply Co. store at 141 Browning Parkway and the Farmington Municipal Operations Center at 101 N. Browning Parkway, as well as the large dirt lot just north of the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter at 133 Browning Parkway, will remain open for use for access to Animas Park, according to Natalie Spruell, assistant director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs for the City of Farmington.

Both lots have been used for Riverfest parking in the past. But Spruell said the anticipated closures and flooding mean neither lot is likely to offer access to the festival this year.

“They probably won’t do much good,” she said.

That means all festival parking will take place in lots on the north and west sides of the Animas River. Waters said there is ample parking in the Miller Avenue area adjacent to Boyd Park, which will serve as the south anchor of the festival.

The Riverfest kickoff party takes place at 5 p.m. Friday, May 27, and the festival itself runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 28 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 29. Visit for a full schedule of events.

Water managers said last week they do not expect San Juan County rivers to hit their peak flow until well into June, as the majority of the snowpack remains in place.

According to the SNOWTEL website operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the snow-water equivalent of the snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers basin in southwest Colorado was at 200 percent of the historic average on May 18 — the highest of any basin in Colorado.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 Support local journalism with a digital subscription: