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New rules for Lake Nighthorse aquatic park in place for spring opening

City schedules timed sessions for Wibit after sustaining nearly $10,000 in damages last year
Children climb around on the wibit in the Aqua Park at the swim beach in August 2021 at Lake Nighthorse. The Wibit sustained nearly $10,000 in “irreparable damages” last year, prompting the city to introduce new rules targeting safety and fair use of the facilities. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

After the Wibit at Lake Nighthorse’s aqua park sustained nearly $10,000 in “irreparable damages” from excessive use last year, the city is imposing new rules this spring to improve safety and fair use of the Wibit.

The lake is scheduled to open at the end of March for nonmotorized use, with motorized recreation opening May 15. New rules will include scheduled public use sessions, user fees and a cap on how many people can use the Wibit at once, according to a city news release.

Concerns from Durango residents about last year’s operations prompted the city to create new rules for the Wibit Aqua Park at Lake Nighthorse, said Amy Schwarzbach, the city natural resources manager. The growing popularity of aqua parks worldwide helped the city research what other municipalities are doing to regulate use of their aquatic facilities.

Lake Nighthorse entertained 89,338 visitors last year, and the city hopes to increase usage of the aqua park this summer. But heavy use led to internal damages to two floating structures that needed to be replaced, one costing about $4,700 and the other one in the $5,000-$6,000 range, she said.

“Popularity of the Wibit Aqua Park exceeded all expectations,” she said in a news release. “We have learned important lessons these past two seasons and received many requests from parents to address safety issues, as well as find a way to provide equitable access so that more kids can enjoy the aqua park.”

She said the city announced new rules for the Wibit Aqua Park well ahead of the 2023 season because season passes are already available at the Durango Community Recreation Center. The city wants to avoid surprising people with new $5 use fees, which are separate from entrance fees and are not included in the pass, and wants people to know construction that could cause delays is likely to take place during the summer.

Construction of an entrance center is planned for the summer, which could cause traffic congestion and delays that people should be aware of ahead of time.

The city is limiting the number of Wibit users to 60 people per session and cites extended, uninterrupted play periods last season where users would not leave the Wibit to allow others the chance to use it, Schwarzbach said.

The aqua park will open for public use during four sessions on operating days, each session lasting 1 hour 45 minutes, the release says. The new $5 fee is required per session.

The city will also require an adult to accompany any children ages 6 and younger, and all users of the aqua park will need to wear a city-provided Wibit life jacket, the release says. A new lifeguard tower is being added to the aqua park to increase safety.

“By offering four sessions each day and permitting only 60 people at a time, total weight on the aqua park can be managed to prevent damage to the play structure as well as allow for turnover of those playing on the wibit over the course of the day,” according to the release.

Summer construction at Lake Nighthorse

Lake Nighthorse has undergone development and improvements nearly every year since opening in 2018. That year, the city was building parking lots on the property. The following year, a ADA-accessible fishing dock was installed on the lakeside. In 2020, the swim beach was built, and last year, the Wibit Aqua Park was introduced to the lake.

More improvements are scheduled to take place this year, including the widening of lanes on lake property to reduce congestion on County Road 211 and the construction of an entrance center. An improved aquatic vehicle decontamination site is planned to be installed.

“We’re going to have a fee station similar to what you would see at a state park or a national park, a toll booth,” Schwarzbach said. “We’re going to locate that farther onto the property so that more cars can get in a line on the Lake Nighthorse property rather than being stacked on the county road.”

The city will add two additional entrance lanes for a total of four lanes leading to the lake. The toll both will rest in the middle of the lanes and have windows on both lane-facing sides

The entrance center will also contain an equipment workshop, a vehicle storage building, office space and a boat inspection area.

Schwarzbach said Colorado Parks and Wildlife is leading a shift in water decontamination practices to commercial water heating technology across the state, and the city will be utilizing the new tech for its new decontamination system.

“It’s a wonderful change for boat decontamination,” she said.

The new technology will allow the city to store water heated at the right temperature to kill aquatic invasive species that might have hitched a ride on a boat, trailer or engine from one body of water to Lake Nighthorse, according to Schwarzbach.

The new decontamination system will also contribute to water recycling efforts. Currently, the city uses a mobile decontamination system – a large, metal pad where boats parked to flush water through a filter system. With the new decontamination system, a retention tank – similar to those seen at car washes – will be installed into the ground that boats can park over.

“So it’ll be a closed system, but continuing to recycle the water through (those) water heaters,” she said.

The construction will be performed during Lake Nighthorse’s operating hours, she said. Visitors should anticipate traffic delays, including potentially one-lane access to the lake. The city plans to put its construction plans out to bid in coming months.


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