More than 250 public comments submitted on Lake Nighthorse recreation focused overwhelmingly on the most common complaint surrounding the lake’s management: keep motorized boats out of the water.
On Monday, the Bureau of Reclamation released a final document addressing environmental concerns on recreational use of Lake Nighthorse in addition to 285 comments solicited last spring from the public, governmental agencies, and environmental and recreational interests. And it decided to open the lake to motorized boating seasonally.
Though a few rare commenters sounded support for motorized boating, most reiterated they want a no-wake lake, concerned that such use will jeopardize the safety of other recreators, pollute the waters with gasoline and disturb the peace and quiet for neighbors and lake-goers.
The complaint has been one of the most common throughout the process as stakeholders have figured out how best to manage and operate the reservoir.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental assessment describes the following stipulations for motorized boats:
Motor boats must have mufflers to keep noise levels below 86 decibels at 50 feet from the boat.Motor boats will be barricaded from certain areas such as the dam and future swim beaches.The shoreline and lake’s western end will be no-wake zones.Boats cannot exceed 40 mph, or 5 mph in no-wake zones.Fueling will be prohibited on the lake.Justyn Liff, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the agency doesn’t address “vote” comments, such as those that expressed favor for or opposition to motorized boats.
“That’s not what the environmental assessment process is for,” Liff said. “We look for environmental concerns, and if we see a novel idea, we address it.”
Behind the boating issue, most respondents complained that the environmental assessment does not place trail systems as an immediate priority, but rather something that can be developed in future phases, which irked the hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking communities.
The city of Durango, which will manage lake use, can set additional rules.
“This is really a big step for our community,” said Cathy Metz, director of parks and recreation.
A lease agreement is expected to be finalized in 2017 that will allow the city of Durango to annex land surrounding the lake from the Bureau of Reclamation, which could include the water, land east of the reservoir and where County Road 210 accesses the reservoir.