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Vallecito Marina did just fine in 2020. What will this summer bring?

COVID-19 pandemic brought more business to lake community north of Durango
Troy McGovern with Pine River Irrigation District unloads buoys Wednesday at Vallecito Reservoir as the lake prepares to open for recreation.

The Vallecito Marina opens Saturday, and several local residents expect a strong season for recreation and the community’s economy.

The marina is one of the main attractions for visitors to the lakeside community 21 miles northeast of Durango. And each year, visitors bring an influx of business for local restaurants and lodging companies.

Although many businesses were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the marina had one of its best years in 2020. Its managing organization, the Vallecito Conservation and Sporting Association, hopes for a repeat season.

“We’re figuring to equal last year’s numbers as far as attendance and boats coming in,” said Gary Frye, the marina’s operations manager. “We’re booked up for (boat) slips, and we have a waiting list for mooring on buoys.”

Pine River Irrigation District prepares to open Vallecito Reservoir on Saturday for recreation.

In 2020, the marina had its “best financial year ever,” said Tony Shurts, board president of VCSA.

“According to our reservation service ... all of their members experienced practically the same thing,” Shurts said.

Last year, visitors came up from New Mexico, particularly when the state’s restrictions limited access to recreational opportunities because of the pandemic. Those restrictions drove more people to southern Colorado when its COVID-19 rules were less restrictive.

“What happened last year, I believe, will have an influence on this year’s numbers,” Shurts said. “A lot of people we talked to had never been to Vallecito and were just stunned by the natural beauty here. I believe we’ll be getting a lot of those back.”

A good year at the marina means more business for nearby businesses.

“I believe it’s going to be a good year, probably on par with last year,” said Rick McCune, Bear Paw Lodge owner and president of Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of people are surprised that we had such a good year last year with the situation because of COVID.”

Jordan Angell helps out Wednesday rebuilding floating docks as Pine River Irrigation District prepares to open Vallecito Reservoir on Saturday for recreation.

Marina staff members spent the week leading up to opening day getting the boathouse’s retail area organized and preparing dock slips.

The VCSA also added more kayaks, sailboats, a rowboat and canoes to its rental selection. It plans to create a no-wake zone on the north end of the lake.

Later in the summer, the marina plans to open some operations on the north end of the lake, such as rentals for nonmotorized equipment. It was difficult to operate both motorized and nonmotorized rentals in the same space with COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions in effect, Shurts said. Approval for north end operations will be finalized by next week, he said.

In coming years, the VCSA also plans to create a beach area, volleyball courts and a playground at the lake.

Rudi Winkleman, former general manager of marine operations with Pine River Irrigation District, talks about the remodeling of the marina at Vallecito Reservoir.

Some lake services depend on water levels. For example, the north end of the lake does not have enough water to begin rental operations, Shurts said.

The reservoir held 55,468 acre-feet of water as of Tuesday, about 43% of its total capacity of 129,700 acre-feet. The stored water is primarily used for downstream irrigation. He expected north-end rentals to start in June.

“We really look forward to this season. I believe it’s going to be successful,” Shurts said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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