The 416 Fire and boat ramp reconstruction are likely responsible for lower-than-expected visitation and revenue at Lake Nighthorse this summer.
The lake has generated about $60,123, and the city has spent $211,941 on operating the lake from April 1 through June 30, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said.
In its first three months, the city sold 787 annual passes and 10,872 drop-in admissions, she said.
Visitation was likely lower than expected because the boat ramp was under construction in May and June and the lake was closed for nine days during the 416 Fire, she said. Smoke from the 416 Fire that settled over Durango in the mornings also likely deterred boaters and anglers.
In July, visitation has picked up, and the lake offers one of the best boating opportunities in Southwest Colorado right now because many other reservoirs in the region are seeing their water levels drop, she said. Irrigators and municipalities are drawing down water reserves during the drought.
“People are learning that Lake Nighthorse is really special,” Metz said.
The lake may draw in more people because its water levels are high, but there isn’t enough time left in the season to earn the revenue the city was expecting, City Manage Ron LeBlanc said.
Durango City Council didn’t directly address the revenue shortfall, but several councilors asked about motorized and non-motorized use of the lake.
Before the lake opened, residents petitioned the city to designate Lake Nighthorse as a nonmotorized or a wakeless lake.
The council compromised, designating Mondays and Wednesdays as wakeless days. On those days, motorized boats are allowed to visit the lake, but boaters cannot travel fast enough to make a wake.
Visitation among paddlers doesn’t seem to spike on Mondays and Wednesdays. At the same time, some boaters have chosen to visit other lakes on wakeless days, Metz said.
Anglers, however, represent the majority of people boating on the lake, she said.
“These fish are hungry and they will bite anything,” she said.
Despite the recent “curveballs,” Metz described the opening of Lake Nighthorse as a “tremendous success for our community.”