A final environmental assessment was released Monday for the Lake Nighthorse recreation plan, which will open waters to motorized boating for portions of the year.
The Bureau of Reclamation chose an alternative described in the conceptual plan the city of Durango developed with the bureau in 2014 that intends for the reservoir to be developed incrementally. The environmental assessment permits access only from sunrise to sunset, and allows motorized boating, water skiing and wake boarding from mid-May to mid-November.
Nighthorse waters also will be open to fishing, other types of boating including kayaking and canoeing, and swimming.
The document allows for future developments such as natural surface trails connecting the lake to the Animas River Trail and a loop on the reservoir’s eastern side. Some who submitted comments to the Bureau of Reclamation said the proposed action neglects trail-system planning for hikers.
Bureau of Reclamation officials have previously spoken of an optimistic summer 2017 public opening date for Nighthorse, but Justyn Liff, agency spokeswoman, said Monday there is no deadline for achieving the next steps. Those include negotiations between the bureau and 25 native tribes on the terms of a management plan to protect the lake’s cultural resources. These negotiations have been ongoing since the bureau released a draft environmental assessment last spring.
In the months ahead, the bureau also must strike a leasing agreement with the city of Durango, which will manage recreational use at the lake. The city will then pursue grants to pay for construction projects such as additional parking space, a decontamination station for boats, and improved access to the existing boat ramp.
Calls to the city Parks and Recreation Department were not immediately returned.
Some related construction has begun. Last spring, a contractor hired by La Plata County began building a turn lane on County Road 210 to access the lake.
Lake Nighthorse is a component of the Animas-La Plata Project, a large water project created to satisfy tribal water rights. The reservoir was filled with 1,500 surface acres of water in 2011, but its shores were not opened to the public as stakeholders weighed the environmental, historical and cultural impacts and debated which entity should manage the lake.
“We are excited for recreation at Lake Nighthorse to become a reality in the near future,” Ed Warner, area manager of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office, said in a news release. “We appreciate the input of our partners, stakeholders and the public. We are committed to protecting water quality, cultural resources and the primary purposes of the Animas-La Plata Project, while moving forward in the process to make recreation at Lake Nighthorse a reality.”