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Durango identifies ‘quiet’ days on Lake Nighthorse

City councilors tweak plan for wakeless use

Durango City Council approved a revised operations plan for Lake Nighthorse on Tuesday that sets aside Mondays and Wednesdays each week for quiet use.

The new rules will be enforced when the lake opens April 1.

“I am all about trying to give everybody the best experience,” said Councilor Sweetie Marbury.

Councilors tweaked a plan presented by staff, increasing the number of quiet-use hours city staff proposed. They also prohibited jet skis.

The board did not take a vote on the management plan during Tuesday’s work session; rather, the board’s general consensus will guide city staff as they prepare to open the lake.

City staff proposed setting aside Wednesdays and Tuesday and Thursday mornings before 10 a.m. as wakeless periods on the lake. It also allowed jet skis on Saturdays and Sundays.

“The times to me are very confusing when I read them,” Marbury said. “There are too many times going on. ... I see it as all-day quiet lake experience or an all-day motorboat experience.”

While the councilors approved a plan with fewer days set aside for quiet uses, it does allow for more hours per week of wakeless time.

Councilor Chris Bettin expressed concern about limiting use of the lake because the rules might hinder the city’s ability to generate revenue. The city and the Bureau of Reclamation plan to split the operational expenses that cannot be paid with user fees. The loss is expected to total almost $200,000 in 2018.

“The more users the better,” he said.

Councilors considered wakeless Fridays instead of Mondays. But Bettin was concerned that rule might deter weekend visitors, and other councilors agreed.

Councilor Dean Brookie suggested prohibiting jet skis, saying allowing them would be “just asking ourselves for problems right out of the gate.”

Jet skis will be allowed for special events this summer to gauge what interest exists in using them on the lake, councilors agreed.

The new plan also sets aside 7 percent of the lake on the north side near the entrance station for motorless use, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said. The plan previously anticipated wake and no-wake zones. About 31 percent of the lake will be no-wake.

The new plan for motorized use was developed based on a series of public meetings to gather input on motorized boating and quiet uses on the lake. The Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition submitted a petition in June asking for a 5 mph speed limit for boats. And the council received a flurry of emails about the issue in December and before Tuesday’s meeting.

Mary “Jeff” Karraker said the change to more quiet days showed councilors were listening.

“I was really pleased,” she said.

After the lake opens, management decisions could evolve based on the types of users and general feedback, Metz said.

White suggested revisiting management issues once the lake has fully opened.

“I’m thinking by early July, we should be having a conversation about what’s actually happening” White said.

The city plans to have a special event March 31 for children to fish on the lake before it officially opens April 1, Metz said.

Between opening day and May 15, the lake is expected to be open only on weekends because crews will be building an overflow parking lot, installing a trail from the overflow parking lot to the boat ramp parking lot and chip-sealing the boat ramp road. These improvements are estimated to cost about $585,500. A Motorboat Colorado grant will cover $285,000 of the cost, according to city documents.

The lake will open to motorized use on May 15, and a dock will be installed at the boat ramp by that date.

Three additional docks will be installed in July, and one will be set aside for law enforcement, according to city documents.

The latest plan also increases fees to recreate at the lake for certain types of passes. The daily vehicle entry fee increased from $5 per day to $8 per day, and an annual vehicle pass increased from $50 to $70.

The city expects to make $329,100 from user fees this year instead of the $229,250 previously projected, according to city documents.

Water quality will be closely monitored after the city opens recreation on the lake, and the Bureau of Recreation will look for benzines, which come from fuel and E. coli, a bacteria that can make humans sick.

“If there are problems with water quality, this operations plan will change,” Metz said.

More information about Lake Nighthorse management can be found at durangogov.org/LakeNighthorse

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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