Lake Nighthorse: Bring your ideas to the meetings that will craft recreation plans for reservoir

Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 3:50 PM
A wind whipped wave washes ashore at the boat ramp at Lake Nighthorse in March 2013. Photo by SHAUN STANLEY/The Durango Herald.

Finding solutions together. That’s the subtext of the city’s announcement of upcoming public meetings to explore options for shared recreation at Lake Nighthorse.

As the county learned in recent months with its proposed land-use code, community engagement is key. It’s also time-consuming and takes patience, but better decisions result in the end.

With respect to Lake Nighthorse, a component of the Animas-La Plata Project, interest groups have been engaged since 1980, when A-LP was authorized to fulfill water rights obligations to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

It wasn’t until 2000, when the Bureau of Reclamation released its record of decision and final supplemental environmental impact statement envisioning recreational use developed and managed by a non-federal entity, that the broader public’s interest really piqued. In 2010, the city of Durango expressed interest in serving as BOR’s partner, responsible for managing recreation at Lake Nighthorse.

Last Tuesday, in perhaps as historic a moment as the decision to build the Durango Community Recreation Center, Durango City Council unanimously voted to annex the 1,500 acres of water and 500 acres of land that make up Lake Nighthorse to enable providing law enforcement services.

With an April 1 grand opening, the clock is ticking, and perhaps the most important aspect is yet unknown: Who gets to use Lake Nighthorse?

We do know weekends from April 1 to May 15 have been designated for non-motorized craft. We also know that because $3 million in grant funds came through a federal grant program funded by a fuel excise tax, some type of motorized boats must be allowed. But maybe not jet skis because no open-air exhaust or two-stroke engine craft are allowed on the reservoir.

Beyond that, and despite the recommendations that have come from previous plans, a lot is still to be decided. Just what kind of motorized uses will be allowed? What about the 1,200 petition signatures delivered to City Council last June from the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition requesting a 5 mph speed limit on the lake?

The good news is that two meetings are being held next week – an open house starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Recreation Center; a community meeting to review previous community-generated solutions will follow at 5 p.m. (see for historical documents). Then, from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, again at the Recreation Center, the hard work of formulating specific solutions will begin.

The more challenging news is the short timeline in which city staff has to pull together all the public input it receives to craft recommendations for City Council to consider at its March 13 study session. When it comes to parks and recreation, the city has a 90 percent operational cost-recovery rate on facilities like the Rec Center and Chapman Hill. We hope city staff can create a plan to produce similar results at Lake Nighthorse. This first year will be a bit of an experiment, and as amenities are added, the rates to access the lake will likely increase.

Participate in this process. Come to the meetings and bring your best ideas.