To better accommodate the public, the San Juan National Forest has improved access to McPhee Reservoir from the Sage Hen area west of Dolores.
County Road X and side roads that lead to the shoreline were blocked in June to prevent invasive mussels from entering the reservoir from uninspected watercraft.
But after public outcry that lake access was too restricted, U.S. Forest Service and reservoir managers modified access in August to allow vehicles to use side roads and drive closer to the lake.
Boulders were placed 20 to 50 yards off the shoreline to prevent motorized boats, jet skis and trailered boats from being launched.
“Now, people can get closer to go fishing and swimming, or hand-launch a canoe,” said Tom Rice, recreation planner for the San Juan National Forest. “We are finding that balance between protecting the lake and providing adequate access.”
Two side roads to the lake have reopened – one off Road 25 and the other off Road X near the new gate.
The sudden closure of Road X with a gate annoyed residents, who have been using the road for decades to access McPhee.
Sage Hen is one of a few areas where it is easy to reach the lake because of its flat terrain and network of roads. In 2008, camping was banned at Sage Hen because of vandalism, illegal off-roading, excessive partying and littering.
“Free activities like going to the lake shore to picnic, fish and recreate are important for the local families, don’t cut that off,” local resident Genene Reed said at a recent meeting about Sage Hen. “Senior citizens use the lake, and they need convenient access.”
Access to McPhee was tightened this season amid concerns that the non-native quagga mussel could infest the reservoir and damage irrigation infrastructure, dams, municipal water lines, fisheries and recreation facilities.
The mussel is transported to waters via boats that have been to infected lakes, such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
To prevent McPhee from being contaminated, all motorized and trailers boats are allowed to launch only at either the McPhee or House Creek boat ramps after passing through a boat-inspection station.
Nine types of non-motorized crafts can launch from anywhere on the lake without an inspection. They are kayaks, canoes, rafts, belly boats, windsurfer boards, sailboards, float tubes, inner tubes and paddleboards.
However, any boat can be infected with the mussel, so all watercraft should be cleaned, drained and dried before and after entering a waterway.
The Road X closure was an emergency stopgap measure, according to Montezuma County commissioners.
“The best answer is to have a boat-inspection station at the entrance to Sage Hen in order to open it back up to recreation and also protect the lake,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.
The estimated cost to install an inspection station at Sage Hen for the duration of the boating season is $20,000.
Boating use has increased by 83 percent at McPhee this summer, reservoir managers said, in part because of boating bans at other regional lakes.