As the opening day for Lake Nighthorse approaches, residents who support a quiet lake are concerned Durango city officials have already made decisions, making the latest round of public-input meetings moot.
Trappers Crossing resident Kim Hall attended public meetings in February but came away with the impression they were held purely for show, mainly to placate Durango City Council.
“It was just set up to have a window dressing,” he said.
He didn’t think the concepts identified during the focus groups, including making Lake Nighthorse a wakeless lake, were fairly represented later in the process.
He also doesn’t expect the solution presented to City Council will reflect the wishes of the quiet lake supporters, who were in the majority at public meetings, he said.
Councilors directed city staff to hold a series of meetings about motorized boating on the lake after receiving emails about the issue in December. In June, residents also presented councilors with a petition that had 1,200 signatures supporting a 5 mph speed limit for boats.
Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation, said city staff is revising the plan to manage motorized and non-motorized boats on the lake based on the public input.
“There was no predetermined end game,” she said.
The plan will be presented to councilors in mid-March during a work session ahead of opening day on April 1.
Metz expects the plan will present a compromise for different user groups of the lake based on public feedback. Some regulations already exist. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation has prohibited open-air exhaust boats and houseboats.
The city is required to allow motorized boating on the lake because a grant funded by excise taxes on fuel for motorboats paid for the boat ramp and other improvements.
Details of the plan are being reviewed, but Metz expects it will address concerns expressed during recent meetings.
The city held focus groups, a community meeting and a workshop in February and March. The community meeting drew more than 130 people, and about 80 attended the workshop, she said.
“We got the turnout and the involvement from the community that we were hoping for,” Metz said.
After the lake opens, management decisions could evolve based on the types of users, survey responses and general feedback, she said.
Lauri Costello attended the public meetings and described the process as disingenuous.
“They hired this consultant to talk us into seeing it their way,” she said.
Officials never seriously considered a quiet lake solution, she said.
“It would be one thing if they came to us and said, ‘Don’t waste your time, we are going to open it to motoring.’ But for them to tell us that we have a voice and then not to listen to us is just not OK,” she said.
Kristine Johnson, a member of the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, expects city officials will propose a split-use plan for the lake that will set aside time for no-wake or motorless uses.
“I do not know how anyone could come away from last week’s meetings without a balanced split-use solution,” she said.
For example, every other weekend or every other day could be reserved for quiet users.
“The split-use plan would need to be very simple and very consistent in order to better market the lake and inform the public,” she said.
Rafter J resident Priscilla Sherman wants the city to open the lake with some limits, such as regulations on boat size and a cap on the number of people allowed per day.
“Let’s start out slow and build our way up as we see successes,” she said.
She is concerned about direct access to an area on the west side of the lake designated as wakeless because a previous version of the plan did not include it. Paddlers would have to traverse the lake to access the area, she said.
Former Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member Mary Karraker said voters should have a say in how Lake Nighthorse is managed to make sure quiet lake supporters are heard.
“I really think the people of Durango should have some say on this,” she said.
If motorized use is allowed, Karraker would like to see the city prohibit gasoline-powered motorboats during the first year, saying they introduce potential problems, such as gasoline spills.
At the end of the first year, people could have a chance to weigh in on lake management, Karraker said.
Steve Krest, who used to support the quiet lake model, changed his opinion after spending time on the lake as a Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteer.
“There is really room to have ski boats out there,” he said.
He was also impressed by the management plan that Metz presented a few weeks ago, which anticipated wake abatement and months when motorboats would not be allowed.
The lake will be open each year between April 1 and Nov. 15, but motorized use is allowed only between May 15 and Oct. 15 by the Bureau of Reclamation.