The situation is looking a little brighter for people who want to Nordic ski around Vallecito Reservoir but have been prohibited from some popular areas after a dispute over user fees.
For years, Nordic skiers have traveled to Vallecito Reservoir, about 20 miles northeast of Durango, to hit the 7 to 10 miles of Nordic trails on the east side of the lake.
In 2017, however, the trail that follows the reservoir’s beach on the eastern edge of the lake, considered the most scenic of the routes, was closed to Nordic skiers, effectively eliminating nearly 50% of all the groomed terrain.
Most of the Nordic skiing terrain is on U.S. Forest Service land. The portions closed, however, fall under the jurisdiction of the Pine River Irrigation District, the operating body that provides water to irrigators from Vallecito Reservoir, under the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation.
PRID, district officials say, wants to institute a new fee for people using the trails on its land. But issues over jurisdiction and whether PRID had the authority to enact a fee caused the district to close the trails in winter 2017-18 and again in winter 2018-19 because the problem couldn’t be resolved.
Ethan Scott, a lands and recreation manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, said all the agencies involved are on track to come up with an agreement for use in the area, with their next and, hopefully, final meeting scheduled for mid-December.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Scott said. “We’re happy with the way things are going.”
Part of the problem, Scott said, is the checkerboard nature of the lands overseen by the Forest Service and PRID. But, he said, PRID does have the right to charge people using its lands.
Ken Beck, PRID superintendent, said the anticipated fees would be modestly priced.
At Vallecito Reservoir, for instance, all users – including people who hike, fish and boat – 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.
Over the years, the entire Nordic ski trail system at the reservoir has been groomed by an all-volunteer crew from the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club, a nonprofit made up of about 100 people that operates on donations. PRID, Beck said, hasn’t incurred any costs related to the use.
But the plan with the pending agreement would have PRID help with the costs of grooming, Beck said.
“We want to offer Nordic skiing ... and make it a top-notch resource,” he said. “But we have to make sure everyone is paying their way, and working toward that common goal where it pays for itself and is financially feasible.”
In recent years, PRID has lost funding from the Bureau of Reclamation for recreational expenses, and it faces a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate the dam’s 80-year-old spillway in the next few years.
As a result, the district is looking for revenue sources wherever they can be found.
“When we’re done, everyone is going to say this is better than where we were before,” Beck said.
Calls to the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club were not returned Tuesday.
Paul Eckenrode, president of the Vallecito Chamber of Commerce, said Nordic skiing is an important driver for Vallecito’s winter economy, up there with snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding.
“Vallecito Nordic (Ski Club) is a great asset to the Vallecito Lake community ... and we support any efforts to have all its trails open,” he said.