Montezuma County commissioners voted this week to continue the temporary closure of County Road X in the Sage Hen area until Nov. 30.
The closure of Road X and side roads to McPhee Reservoir is to prevent motorized boats from launching onto the lake without an inspection for the invasive quagga mussel.
All motorized and trailered boats must launch from the House Creek or McPhee boat launches when boat inspection stations are open.
Commissioners and McPhee managers emphasized that the road closures are temporary until a solution is created by a new working group to provide reasonable recreation access while protecting the reservoir from contamination by the mussel, which damages irrigation structures.
“We have to be active in preventing the mussel contamination,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “States that were passive in their approach ended up with the mussel and all the problems.”
In the past month, concrete barriers have been installed at any point where a vehicle could potentially get to the shoreline and launch a motorized boat or jet ski. Room is provided for ATVs, bikes, horses and motorcycles to get around the barriers. Nonmotorized, hand-launched boats such as canoes, kayaks, rafts, sailboards and stand-up boards are considered lower risk for carrying the mussel and can launch from anywhere without being inspected.
For now, Road X has been blocked just past the corals and Sage Hen trailhead.
During a public hearing about the road closure, several residents expressed concerns and suggested solutions.
Larry Dozier of the Mesa Verde Backcountry Horsemen said the area needs more room for parking to accommodate horse trailers.
“Please consider expanding the parking there, because right now, it is a pretty restricted space for all the users,” he said.
Lloyd Powers urged the commission to not close the Road X and prevent unauthorized boat launches at Sage Hen by enacting “monumental fines and even boat confiscation” against violators.
Genene Reed, a resident of Road X, said keeping the multiple use access at Sage Hen is essential for the community.
“Free activities like going to the lake shore to picnic, fish and recreate are important for the local families. Don’t cut that off,” she said. “Move the barriers closer to the shoreline so we can launch our kayaks. Senior citizens use the lake, and they need convenient access.”
A statement was made that public safety agencies need to have keys to any future gates in order to do mosquito spraying and respond to accidents and emergencies, such as the wildfire that occurred last summer. Reservoir and county officials said maintenance, emergency personnel and law enforcement will have complete access.
Dan Alsop suggested boat inspection stations at Sage Hen as a solution to prevent mussel contamination and continue recreation without the barrier restrictions.
Officials say boat inspection for Sage Hen is the ideal solution, but funding is not available at this time except for the stations at McPhee and House Creek.
Tom Rice, recreation manager for the San Juan National Forest, said McPhee is seeing increased use since numerous other local lakes have banned motorized boats because of no boat inspection stations. Boat engines are a contamination risk because the mussel and its larvae can live in standing water of engines.
In May, there were 644 boat inspections at the McPhee boat ramp, compared with 371 in May 2016, a 73 percent increase.
“Our numbers are impressive because we are the only show into town” for motorized boating, Rice said.