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Durango residents interested in expanding wakeless hours at Lake Nighthorse

Only 6% of recreationalists use lake for motorized activities
Winsor Wilhelmsen and his dog Banksey paddle around Lake Nighthorse in April 2022 during opening day of the season. Residents have inquire about expanding non-motorized use hours at the lake with Durango city councilors. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Lake Nighthorse is a valued recreational resource in Durango where residents and visitors can relax at the water’s edge, fish, swim, or go paddleboarding or motorboating.

But some Durangoans would like it if the lake expands wakeless hours, the times when motorized use is prohibited.

Animas Valley resident Laura Weiser said during the public participation segment of last week’s Durango City Council meeting that there is a disparity between accommodations at Lake Nighthorse for motorized use and the number of recreationists who actually use motorized boats.

An information-only presentation by Durango Parks and Recreation’s Sarah Humphrey at that same meeting showed motorized users at the lake make up just 6% of total users, while 33% of users engage in stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing or rowboating.

Another 32% of users are swimmers. Twenty-three percent of users walk or run, some with their dogs. And another 6% of users fish at the lake from the shore.

Humphrey said the city made several changes in 2021 following feedback from residents, including expanding the wakeless area of the lake from 38% to 42% of the lake’s total size. A separate paddle craft launch area was also created, and wakeless hours were extended to also include Fridays.

But some residents aren’t satisfied with the changes.

Mayor Melissa Youssef visited with two residents who shared Weiser’s concerns. Youssef requested the presentation on current wakeless hours after talking to Mary Handrick and Jim Cross, two proponents of more wakeless hours at Lake Nighthorse, minutes from a Jan. 16 meeting say.

Current wakeless hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But Youssef said when the lake first opened, the city had two full days of wakeless recreation.

“She said there had been an increase in the number of users at the lake. She said they will be requesting that Council schedule for review and discussion at future Council Meeting,” the meeting minutes say.

Last week, Weiser urged councilors to reconsider when motorized use versus non-motorized use is allowed on the water.

“The percentage of motorized vs. non-motorized, the non-motorized are a greater percentage than the motorized. And for those that aren’t involved with paddleboarding, canoeing and more importantly (rowing), water coming over the edge (of the craft) is problematic,” she said. “Yes, there is a wakeless area within the lake even when it’s not wakeless time. But to credit Jim Cross, a well-known Durango resident, he’s never seen a buoy stop a wake. So there are always waves when there are motorboats on the lake.”

She said the percentage of people actually taking part in motorized use at Lake Nighthorse should be considered when setting wakeless hours.

She said other lakes and reservoirs in the greater area that restrict motorized use are smaller bodies of water and are not close to Durango.

“Lake Nighthorse is available to all of us and I just feel like the split in usage should reflect the actual usage of the water,” she said.

Other lakes and reservoirs that don’t allow motorized use or facilitate wakeless recreation include Farmington Lake. Pastorius, Lemon, Jackson Gulch, Puett and Totten reservoirs are wakeless or otherwise restrict motorized use. Haviland and Summit lakes restrict motorized use.

As it stands, motorized recreation is only prohibited between April 12 through May 14 to support an area winter wildlife closure, Humphrey said. Starting May 15, the lake opens for motorized use.

During wakeless hours, motorized craft are still permitted to launch onto the water. They just can’t make waves or play loud music, she added.


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