Nearly half the Nordic skiing trails at Vallecito Reservoir are expected to remain closed this winter until issues lingering from last year over user fees can be resolved.
“We were hoping to get it done before the snow flies,” said Ethan Scott, a lands and recreation manager with the Bureau of Reclamation. “But I don’t know if that’ll happen. But that’s our hope.”
For years, Nordic skiers have traveled to Vallecito Reservoir, about 20 miles northeast of Durango, to ski the 7 to 10 miles of Nordic trails on the east side of the lake.
Last year, however, the trail that follows the reservoir’s beach on the eastern edge of the lake was closed to Nordic skiers, eliminating nearly 50 percent of groomed terrain.
While most of the Nordic skiing terrain is on U.S. Forest Service land, the portion of trail that was closed falls under the jurisdiction of Pine River Irrigation District, the operating body that provides water to irrigators from Vallecito Reservoir under the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Representatives with PRID said the trail was closed while a system was worked out that would allow the agency to charge Nordic skiers for the recreational use of land it manages.
At Vallecito Reservoir, all users – including people who hike, fish, boat, etc. – pay a $3 day-use fee or $30 for an annual pass that goes to PRID for operating and maintenance costs for the irrigation project.
The fee has not applied in years past to Nordic skiers.
“They are modest fees and don’t put a great deal of financial burden on anyone,” Ken Beck, PRID superintendent, said in February. “It’s not a heavy-handed fee being requested.”
While issues lingered over whether PRID had jurisdiction to institute a fee, the agency shut down trails on its land. The hope was these issues could be resolved by this winter, but it appears that remains up in the air.
Scott said the Bureau of Reclamation is still drafting a memorandum of understanding, essentially an agreement contract, to present to the Forest Service.
Scott said he doesn’t expect any issues with the agreement. He said the hold up is related to administrative and legal processes.
“Hopefully, once we get (the agreement) to (the Forest Service), it’ll be cleared up pretty quick,” he said.
Efforts to reach Matt Janowiak, Columbine District ranger for the Forest Service, were unsuccessful.
Beck said a 1953 act passed by Congress clearly shows PRID has the authority to charge fees for people who use land the agency manages. And with two major issues coming down the pike, every dollar counts, he said.
Those two issues include:
At the end of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation will end its 50-50 cost sharing of recreational expenses with PRID, diverting tens of thousands of dollars. Scott said the Bureau of Reclamation is considering extending the funds a few years.It is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate the dam’s 80-year-old spillway in the next few years, Beck said. As a result, PRID is looking for every available revenue source.Beck said it is likely the daily and annual fees will increase for all users of Vallecito Reservoir. He said costs would be comparable to use fees at Lake Nighthorse, where an annual pass costs $70.
In a normal winter season, there are about 1,500 user days at the Vallecito Nordic trails. The portion that was closed by PRID is considered among skiers to be the most scenic part of the trail system.
Gary Gianniny, Vallecito Nordic Ski Club president, said there is still plenty of good Nordic skiing at Vallecito.
“It’s obviously frustrating for us, but we’re trying not to let that steal enthusiasm (for this year) because it doesn’t sound like that will be a resolved issue soon,” he said.