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Lake Nighthorse sees 14% increase in visitors this year

Adding a beach area and floating park creates more recreation opportunities
Durango Parks and Recreation was able to increase the number of visitors to Lake Nighthorse this year by opening its beach area and providing new recreation opportunities like the 180-foot inflatable play area known as a Wibit. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Lakefront improvements paid off this year at Lake Nighthorse, as Durango Parks and Recreation saw a 14% increase in attendance.

In 2020, the lake had about 93,000 visitors, and this year it saw about 107,000 visitors.

Lake Nighthorse operations supervisor Sean Willis said he thinks the improved numbers come from the beach area being opened and a 180-foot floating play area known as a Wibit, which was added this summer.

“It plays into our new construction with our beach project, and that’s a big draw for kids and families,” he said. “I think that was probably the No. 1 driving factor for the uptick.”

Willis said the beach project allowed visitors to have a more enjoyable experience at the lake, because it allowed for a split of user groups.

“With the beach completed, people could go to the beach if they wanted to, which meant the boat ramp was less congested,” he said.

The lake’s beach project began in April 2020 and finished in September 2020. So summer 2021 was the first full season it was available.

“Before the beach was completed, we were really funneling everybody into the boat ramp area,” Willis said.

Additionally, a launch ramp for paddleboards and canoes was added this year.

Willis said staffing was a struggle this year at Lake Nighthorse.

“Last year, we had a lot of applications, and this year it was only a handful,” he said. “It was definitely tricky juggling that. We had a lot more users and less staff to accommodate all those users. The staff we did have was phenomenal.”

During the off-season, the city hopes to add a new decontamination station for boats, and is looking at ways to expand parking.

“We’re working on restructuring our dirt parking lot so that more cars can get in there,” Willis said. “That’s kind of our main hurdle right now since there isn’t a lot of parking in there.”

In an effort to bring in more staff members next season, Parks and Recreation is considering holding job fairs.

Willis said he’s happy to be working at Lake Nighthorse, and enjoys seeing it become a diverse place for recreation.

“I think Lake Nighthorse is a very unique place, and every year it’s changing and getting better,” he said. “I like being a part of such a gem in Durango that just keeps getting better and better.”

While the 2021 increase in visitors is notable, the more significant spike in use came from 2019 to 2020. Willis said he didn’t have the exact numbers handy from 2019, but that he remembers the number of visitors shooting up from around 60,000 in 2019 to about 93,000 in 2020.


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