After many years of planning and anticipation, Lake Nighthorse is expected to open in 2018.
But the city of Durango must annex the lake on County Road 210 and finish several construction projects before it’s ready for visitors, said Parks and Recreation Manager Cathy Metz. Durango City Council also needs to address a request to make the lake a no-wake area.
While there is no exact opening date, the city is targeting April 1, but this will depend on the construction season during the winter, Metz said.
City staff members have forecast an opening year for the lake in the past, but this time, the city is setting aside funding for operation in its 2018 budget. Lake operation, including staffing and materials, is expected to cost about $478,000, according to the city budget. City staff members will manage the lake and an entrance station where they will inspect boats for invasive species, such as zebra mussels.
Operational costs not covered by user fees will be split with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Metz said. The cost split with the bureau will include the cost of providing police presence at the lake.
The city is also planning to finish construction projects, including an overflow parking lot and a breakwater before the lake opens.
The city has proposed spending $300,000 next year on a breakwater and a courtesy dock. A federal grant will pay for the overflow parking lot, which is in the design stage.
Efforts to annex the property into the city are also underway. The lake and shoreline need to be within city limits so Durango Police Department can patrol the area.
Metz expects to have routine police presence at the lake. The Bureau of Reclamation is also giving the city a boat from its fleet so the city can send staff members onto the lake to assist visitors, she said.
The Durango Planning Commission hearing on the lake’s annexation is scheduled for the end of October, said Justyn Liff, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The annexation process may be complete in February, Metz said.
Questions also remain around how motorized boating on the lake will be managed and how visitors will be directed away from culturally sensitive areas.
In June, Durango City Council agreed to consider a request from petitioners, who gathered 1,200 signatures in support of making Lake Nighthorse a no-wake lake.
The petition calls for a 5 mph speed limit for motorized boats so the lake will be a peaceful place for visitors to fish, canoe, kayak, paddleboard, sail and swim.
The petition was aimed at reducing speeds in the center of the lake, an area where the city’s master plan envisions boats going up to 40 mph.
City Council expects to review the issue at the end of the year, Metz said.
“City Council seems to be listening seriously to our position,” said Kristine Johnson, an advocate with the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition.
At a meeting Thursday, Councilor Melissa Youssef expressed interest in engaging the community again about the issue of wakes on the lake. She pointed out most comments submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation during its environmental assessment did not support motorized use of the lake.
“It seems like we’re moving forward without listening,” she said.
She suggested taking additional public comment on the management of the lake.
The city cannot bar motorized boats from the lake because of a grant that paid for infrastructure. The road and the boat ramp were paid for with excise fuel tax, Metz said.
She also told the council that, when the city completed its master plan, motorized use was a divisive issue.
“The consensus opinion was we can all share,” she said.
Metz plans to meet with the quiet-lake advocates to talk about the opportunity for a quiet lake in the spring. The lake will be open each year between April 1 and Nov. 15, but motorized use is allowed only between May 15 and Oct. 15.
“We appreciate their interest in Lake Nighthorse,” Metz said.
The Animas La Plata Operation Maintenance Replacement Association is also discussing how to direct visitors away from areas around the lake where there are archaeological sites and cultural resources.
“We are beginning to talk more specifically about that very issue,” she said.
While a lot of work remains to be done to open the lake, some construction is finished, including an access road, boat ramp, parking lot and restrooms.
The entrance station where boats will be inspected is also close to completion, she said.
The city anticipates charging $5 for a day pass and $50 for an annual pass, she said.