The Durango City Council approved a long-awaited lease Tuesday that will allow the city to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse.
“We have been waiting for this to be on the agenda since 2009,” Mayor Christina Rinderle said.
The 25-year lease will now be sent to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the property, for approval, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said in an interview.
The city agreed to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse because in 2008 Colorado Parks and Wildlife declined to do it.
The lease agreement is a big step, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said. But the city is not legally ready to open the property yet.
“This isn’t ours to open or close,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.
The city must annex the property; a planning-and-development memorandum of understanding must be signed; and necessary infrastructure, including a dock, must be built.
The city does not have a set time frame for opening the lake yet, Metz said.
“I can promise that we will make that known as soon as we can,” she said.
However, the lease will allow the city to make a good case for keeping some of the grants it has already received for construction of amenities around the lake, including a $3 million state grant that has not been completely spent, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
Another $285,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will help pay for a boat dock, an overflow parking area and to chip seal the road from County Road 210 to the boat ramp, Metz said.
The lease between the Bureau of Reclamation and the city will allow Parks and Wildlife to fund these projects.
A grant through the Bureau of Reclamation is also paying for an entrance station where boats will be inspected. This construction is underway, and it will be completed in 2017, Metz said.
Once the lake is opened, the city expects user fees to cover the operation of the area, she said.
If the city faced a shortfall in operational revenue, the city and the Bureau of Reclamation would split that cost, but only if the money was approved by the City Council and the U.S. Congress, she said.
Similarly, the city and the bureau could split the cost of future construction projects, she said.
The cost-sharing is specified in the lease, she said.
However, the bureau will own any structures that it funds, according to the lease.
As part of its management plan, the city plans to annex the 1,500 acres of surface water, about 500 acres of land on the east side of the lake, as well as a narrow band of land around the whole lake. This will allow city police officers to patrol the area.
A swimming beach, natural surface trails, camping and picnic areas are planned for the annexed area, but they will be phased in later.
Limiting the annexation to certain areas is meant to protect archaeological sites, Metz said.
During a December meeting of the Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board, Metz said that a plan to manage hunting near the lake must also be agreed upon as part of the preparation to open the lake.
While hunting would not be allowed on annexed land, it could be allowed on adjacent land.
The city plans to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on hunting management, Metz said.
The lake could offer an area for water fowl hunting that isn’t available close to Durango, said Steve McClung, representing Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a nonvoting member natural land board.