And the game has been over for a long time, I came to realize once I saw the Lake Nighthorse draft recreation plan. It was just that a lot of us hadnt realized it. But any illusions to the contrary that the game might still be on, that there might still really be a chance to keep what was left of the precious undeveloped, quiet, wildlife-filled rarity that was Ridges Basin were fully put to rest at the public meeting April 11.
On that night, it became clear that Ridges Basin, and the reservoir contained therein created by the Animas-La Plata Project, was going to become an abomination an orgy of motorized and industrial-scale fee-driven recreation and a desecration of the publicly owned blessing that was the pre-ALP Ridges Basin. Truly Lake Nightmare.
I partook in several of the extensive recreation plan workshops and meetings put on by the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service and DHM Design. And while I think those folks were earnest, sincere and professional in their efforts managing the recreation-plan process, what people especially naive people like me didnt realize about that process was this:
The Lake Nighthorse recreation planning process was never about debating the merits of developing Ridges Basin versus preserving the basins remaining open space and quietude. It was about accommodating as many users and uses as possible. This process was predestined to it was, in fact, designed to find and define a community involved scaffolding supporting the highest point of the bell curve of all possible uses of Ridges Basin and Nighthorse Reservoir.
And what does the draft plan say the community has decided it wants to do with this still-undeveloped area just outside downtown Durango? To accommodate nearly every use imaginable tempered by minimal restrictions (such as no wake zones, designated-use trail segments, an inspection station for invasive species and a multi-stage filter system for parking-lot runoff) so those many varying uses can co-exist side by side.
The draft plan also acknowledges that accommodating the many needs of all these uses and their numerous impacts will be expensive. Thats why a marketing consultant advised the crowd that development of the area will require heavy marketing and full build-out to lure the most user days to maximize income in order to cover the expenses to implement this full-use plan. (Trail users just arent as good revenue producers as motor boaters, the consultant advised.)
Basically, whoever takes over management of Ridges Basin (since no public entities have stepped to the plate) will have to shill like crazy to make it pay. At full build-out, the consultant estimated it will take 154,000 paying user-days per year to cover the areas development and maintenance costs. In a 100-day season, thats more than 150 boats (those better revenue producers) per day on that little reservoir.
Here are other numbers offered at the meeting illustrating this maximum marketing and development:
b Paved parking.
b 209 parking spaces.
b 22 trailer parking spaces.
b 25 boat ramp area parking spaces.
b 30 boat trailer spaces.
For the campground off County Road 210:
b 41 sites.
b Five group sites.
b Day-use area.
b A Tribute garden highway pull-off scenic overlook, with facilities, off CR 210.
b Extensive trail system encircling the reservoir, with various uses including horse, foot and mountain bike. There will be seasonal closings of portions of the basin for wildlife.
b Interpretation facilities to show what was once there.
The reservoir itself will be divided into several zones:
b Zone 1: swim beach (no wake).
b Zone 2: west side shallows (no wake).
b Zone 3: center of lake for open use.
b Zone 4: inlet structure (no wake).
This, of course, means that the development of Ridges Basin now has everything to do with money and motors and maximum marketing potential (even under the guise of a community process). And it means it has nothing to do with preservation or quiet or even justice.
Justice? Preservation? Sure. Lest we forget: Ridges Basin was deeded by the Bodo Family to the Nature Conservancy, which passed it to the Colorado Division of Wildlife with a forever for wildlife clause; the Bodo State Wildlife Area was public land funded by money from hunting and fishing licences, and when the Bureau of Reclamation couldnt acquire the land legally, it bypassed the public and condemned it.
Given that, for most of the people who bothered to show up for the draft plan unveiling for it seemed like the non-motorized crowd had withered away, knowing what was coming the event had a celebratory and self-congratulatory air, like divvying up the booty after a successful raid.
And for those of us who shared a vision of a quiet, wildlife-harboring, close-to-town area of open space and non-motorized lake recreation an alternative to the already motor-dominated reservoirs elsewhere in the Four Corners that Durango could market to visitors it was a funeral.
Ken Wright is a hunter, fisherman and boater who lives in Durango. He is also the author of The Monkey Wrench Dad (Ravens Eye Press) and other books.