Durango City Council unanimously committed to opening Lake Nighthorse on April 1 and forming an advisory group to help guide the management of the area.
“I for one really want to hear what a balanced advisory group could offer us,” Mayor Dick White said.
The advisory group would likely offer a recommendation to the council in March ahead of the April 1 opening date.
The advisory group, called the Friends of Lake Nighthorse, would likely include people representing motorized boating, fishing, sailing, city advisory boards, governments involved in the lake and the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, among others, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said.
The Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition gathered a petition with 1,200 signatures asking the city to make the area a no-wake lake earlier this year and organized residents to contact the city council about the management of the lake.
“We have put forth compromises to our compromise,” advocate Kristine Johnson said in an interview. In addition to making the lake no-wake, members of the group have suggested alternating days that motorized and nonmotorized use would be allowed on the lake, among other management ideas.
The recommendation from the advisory group go to both the city of Durango and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the lake.
Big changes in lake management could require an amendment to the lease agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, and that could postpone opening of the lake beyond 2018, Metz said.
None of the councilors supported changes that would require a delay, but they did seem interested in responding to the flood of emails and suggestions they received on the issue.
“We’re hearing a lot of passion and a lot of pleas that have to make you pause and for a second think about what we’re doing,” Councilor Melissa Youssef said.
Councilor Sweetie Marbury supported designating hours for motorized and non-motorized use to help accommodate both groups.
Limiting use at the lake could raise some budgetary concerns, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
The city and the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to split any budget shortfalls from operating the lake, and the city has only about $153,000 in the general fund that is not already allocated for other uses. The city as already set aside about $400,000 for operating the lake.
A 2010 market assessment found about 32 percent of Lake Nighthorse visitors would be interested in power boating and 33 percent would be interested in nonmotorized boating.
Limiting the uses on the lake or restricting the hours of certain uses on the lake could cut into the revenue the city can earn, he said.
Before the council started its discussion on Lake Nighthorse Jerry Olivier defended motorized use on the lake.
“I think we all need to share the lake, like we share other resources,” Olivier said.
Johnson with the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, suggested the city consider charging admission to the lake by the person instead of by the carload and to ask residents about the management of the lake in an upcoming Parks and Recreation survey.
“We want this reservoir to succeed as much as anyone,” she said.