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Our View: Wakeless Lake Nighthorse

The time for lake-sharing inequity to change long overdue

As part of the Animas-La Plata Water Project, Lake Nighthorse was designed to fulfill the water rights settlement of the Ute nation in Colorado. In addition to the Ute nation, the lake provides water storage for other water rights claim holders along the Animas River. The lake was named in honor of former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. We are now more than a decade beyond the initial public planning meetings for Lake Nighthorse. The lake opened in April 2018, and it is a wonderful addition to Durango’s recreational offerings. Usage has increased every year. And it has seen steady and helpful improvements including several additional places to launch crafts, and a much-improved swimming area.

Unfortunately, the Parks and Recreation Department has not been able to solve its longest running major complaint or satisfy the lake’s largest user group. I am, of course, referring to the issue of a quiet, wakeless lake. The early public planning meetings back in 2010-11 were doomed because of the decision to take the boat ramp funding before consulting the public. That decision made sure that powerboats would be allowed.

The meager attempt to satisfy the quiet/no-wake users has been totally inadequate from the opening of the lake. And it has since gotten worse. The wakeless hours have been cut back from all day Monday/Wednesday to mornings only Monday/Wednesday/Friday until 10 a.m. All of this has occurred despite Parks and Rec’s own survey data saying that 68% of the respondents wanted more wakeless hours. To be clear, all allowable types of crafts can be on the lake when it is open, but they must adhere to the no-wake hours. The vast majority of users are quiet and wakeless. Canoers, kayakers, rowers, paddleboarders, floatation users, swimmers, sailors and fishers simply want tranquility and quiet to enhance their experience. Powerboat users comprise 5% of the total. Logic and Star Trek’s Spock tell us that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” 1982). This is not just some movie line. It is consistent with the well-accepted doctrine of Utilitarianism first put forth by English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and continued with John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Almost all of the powerboaters are courteous and considerate of smaller craft when on the water. However, it is not unusual for an occasional powerboater to ignore the wakeless hours. Getting bounced around in a small craft is no fun and sometimes dangerous. The wind cannot be controlled but the powerboats can. The Lake Nighthorse staff has been understandably limited and there is no one available to monitor the lake. The decision to administer such limited wakeless hours continues to baffle the aforementioned list of users. The time for this lake-sharing inequity to change is long overdue.

Paddlers, do not despair: We have a new opportunity. Welcome to Ture Nycum, new director of Parks and Recreation. He along with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board can right this wrong. His predecessor ignored this issue. Please revisit and change this. We would like to think that local government should be able to operate better and more efficiently than state and federal entities. And that the wishes of local citizens will be listened to and acted on accordingly.