VALLECITO - The Pine River Irrigation District this month began charging fees for recreational activities at Vallecito
Reservoir, including to park and fish, sunbathe, cross country ski and other forms of enjoyment.
Permits cost $3 daily, $15 for two weeks and $30 annually.
The use permits" allow visitors to park in one of seven parking lots and use the land at the lake. Boating permits are
a separate fee and are not part of the new fee structure. U.S. Forest Service lands are excluded from fees.
The recreational fees were approved and announced last year by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the
reservoir, and the Pine River Irrigation District, which owns the water and manages the land. PRID began collecting the
fees May 1.
I've had a few people who are very unhappy," said Hal Pierce, PRID superintendent.
PRID's primary objective is to provide irrigation water to 45,000 acres of land below the reservoir. Its secondary task
is to oversee recreational activities at the reservoir. But PRID doesn't receive any funding for recreation - other
than from a few" boating permits - which means farmers below the dam have been supplementing recreational costs with
their assessment fees, Pierce said.
When farmers found out they were paying for the public's recreational activities, the PRID board voted to find an
alternative funding source or end its contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to oversee recreational activities.
To sustain recreation at Vallecito, we've got to have some way to make money," Pierce said. We have electric bills,we have toilets (to maintain). It just costs money to do these things. I can't spend the ranchers' money, so the only
way to get the money is from the general public who use the reservoir."
Mark Chiarito, resource management specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango, said if PRID didn't renew its
contract to oversee recreational activities, there would be no more recreation at Vallecito Reservoir because no other
entities were willing or able to do the job.
If the fee system fails and we can't get compliance, then they (PRID) walk away and we have another Lake Nighthorse,"
Chiarito said, referring to the reservoir under construction southwest of Durango that still is looking for an entity
to oversee recreational activities.
To assist PRID, the Bureau of Reclamation made available a $120,000 matching grant that can be used during the next
five years to offset the costs of overseeing recreational activities.
PRID said it won't charge people who park on private property and walk to the lake shoreline. But it will charge people
who park a car on Bureau of Reclamation land to use the lake or other amenities like restrooms.
This is all going to be vehicle-based," Chiarito said. If you park outside the project boundary, you don't have to
The federal government can't charge for parking, which is why PRID implemented a recreational permit," Pierce
Local stores will sell permits, and a sign will be located at the lake's entrance with information about the fees and a
system to pay for and receive a permit.
PRID also has hired a seasonal employee who will contact lake users and inform them of the permit requirement, Pierce
said. If people refuse to pay, PRID can call the La Plata County Sheriff's Office to have people cited for trespassing,he said.
Sheriff Duke Schirard said he doesn't have any resources to patrol the lake, but his deputies will respond when
While we were a little reluctant, it's true that they either own or are in control of the property, and as such, they
are legally in their right to do that," Schirard said of the fees.
Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, said the recreational fee is absurd" and won't work.
Her group opposes fees charged for general access to public lands.
The fee has to be enforced or people won't comply, she said. And serious enforcement will cost money, which will drive
up costs to PRID and defeat the purpose of charging a fee, she said. And if costs creep too high, people will go
elsewhere, Benzar said.
People aren't going to be very voluntary about complying with this," she said. It's just not going to work."
If the fee program doesn't work, PRID can give 90 days notice that it no longer wants to oversee recreational
activities and be released from its contract, said Chiarito, with the Bureau of Reclamation.
PRID spent $38,935 on recreation last year, which included the maintenance of a boat ($15,666), a seasonal employee
($11,633), portable toilet rentals ($5,246), legal fees, insurance, supplies and other costs. The district made $20,500
from boat dock fees, boat permits and a few land leases. A matching grant from the Bureau of Reclamation helped PRID
break even last year, Pierce said. By comparison, PRID's total expenses for operating the dam were $337,083 last year,excluding recreation costs.
PRID hopes to collect an additional $40,000 to $50,000 this year from the recreation fees. The extra money will be used
to improve restrooms, trails and other recreational amenities, Pierce said. It is possible the fee will be adjusted in
future years if it brings in too much money or not enough money.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife spends about $100,000 each year to stock the reservoir with trout and kokanee salmon.
The DOW doesn't have rules prohibiting agencies from charging user fees at lakes it stocks, said Joe Lewandowski,spokesman for the DOW in Durango.
The DOW will monitor whether fishing habits change as a result of the new fees, he said.
We're going to be watching this to see if this affects angling," he said. Other than that, it was their call."
Neil Bourjaily, who has visited Vallecito Reservoir for decades to fish and boat, said the fees were sprung on
He finds it curious" that people aren't considered trespassers if they park on private property and walk to the lake,but they are if they park a car on Bureau of Reclamation land.
Is $3 a lot of money? No, it's not a lot of money, but that's not the point," Bourjaily said. I think it would have
shown good neighborliness on the part of PRID to announce and explain, and I think this was a failure in
Doug Allen, owner of Eagles Nest Cabins and Homes at Vallecito, said he supports the recreation fee, even though it
will cost visitors a little more money. Many tourists are accustomed to paying a day fee, he said.
Allen said he plans to purchase a few annual recreation passes and let his guests use them as needed.
The water is primarily for irrigation, he said, and PRID shareholders shouldn't have to bear the costs of providing
recreation. It was either implement fees or lose recreation altogether, which would hurt the Vallecito economy, he
I think (PRID) has convinced most of the people up here that if we're gong to continue to have recreation, it needs to
be self-sustaining," Allen said.
Whether people are going to balk, I think we'll find that out this summer. But my gut feeling is it's going to be
fine. I don't think the fees are outlandish."
Pierce said he has no plans to be hard-nosed about enforcing the fees, but if people refuse or cop an attitude, he'll
call the Sheriff's Office.
I'm not trying to keep people away from the reservoir," he said. I want them to come up, I want them to fish, I want
them to enjoy themselves."