Lake Nighthorse is just two miles from downtown Durango, but opening up the 5,500-acre area for public recreation is seeming more distant.
Cathy Metz, city director of parks and recreation, on Tuesday said she was less confident of city plans to open the lake to the public by summer 2013 because of complicating factors in reaching a lease agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, such as how to provide for law enforcement.
The reservoir, which was created by the federal government to settle water claims with Native Americans, is currently outside the city’s jurisdiction.
Because the Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Colorado have passed on managing the area for public recreation, the city has been trying to fill the void.
Durango recently was awarded a $285,000 grant from Motorboat Colorado to fund improvements at the lake, but legal sticking points remain.
La Plata County, for example, is researching the possibility of an intergovernmental agreement to allow for Durango police to respond to complaints at Lake Nighthorse, but this seems problematic because of issues such as insuring city police officers against accidents on county land.
A simpler solution would be to annex the property into the city.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc likes this approach because the city needs to have the authority to respond to public complaints if it’s going to be responsible for managing it.
The lack of authority to respond to complaints is a recurring problem for Durango because so many of its managed public lands, such as Horse Gulch, Twin Buttes and the new Cameron-Sterk property along the Animas River, are outside the city limits.
During a study session Tuesday, Councilor Sweetie Marbury said “it just makes sense we have ownership over” Lake Nighthorse.
She said she was eager to get her rubber boat on the lake.
Officials acknowledged there already has been some trespassing on the property because people are eager for it to open.
LeBlanc did not think the city would need to create a new police division to patrol Lake Nighthorse, but would like the authority to arrest or issue a citation to the occasional troublemaker.
City staff members estimate annexation of Lake Nighthorse could take three to four months.
Because the city would rather see the land become a state park, Durango could possibly de-annex the land in the future.
Other complicating factors include protecting the lake from invasive species such as mussels.
Metz assured the council that there would be an inspection area for boats. A spray system would clean off boats suspected of harboring pests.
City Attorney David Smith also thought the city would have governmental immunity if the water became infected.