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Vallecito residents debate future of ATV use

Rental company’s effort to expand sparks discussion about economy, environment
Vallecito Reservoir is seen from Middle Mountain Road. An ATV-rental company’s proposal to expand has the Vallecito community debating the future use of all-terrain vehicles. Some see economic opportunity, while others are concerned about impacts to the environment.

A debate has ignited among residents about the future use of all-terrain vehicles around Vallecito.

The community conversation was sparked by an ATV-rental company’s request to expand the services it can offer on its property.

Since 2012, David Blaylock and Amy Burchfield have run Altitude ATV & Side-by-Side Rentals in Vallecito, about 30 miles northeast of Durango.

For the first couple of years in operation, the business bounced around locations, Blaylock said. But about three years ago, the couple bought property at the bottom of Middle Mountain Road.

Blaylock said they bought the 1.69 acres at 32 Middle Mountain Road with the intent of developing the property to accommodate more uses, such as renting paddleboards, kayaks, mountain bikes and other recreational gear.

To accomplish that, however, the La Plata County Planning Commission must approve a “map amendment,” which would re-classify the land from its current suburban density residential designation to a high-density “mixed-use” listing.

The proposal has triggered a response from residents in the community about the future use of ATVs around Vallecito.

In a public comment period, opinions were split, with 12 out of 22 comments in opposition to the proposal.

Opponents say opening Vallecito to more ATV use would compromise the peaceful, quiet quality of the area, as well as adversely affect roads.

“The primary attraction for Lake Vallecito is its remote location, far removed from urban life,” said Nancy Thomas. “We believe that this development will negatively impact wildlife and the beauty and calm of the area.”

Ken Baker wrote that ATVs damage roads, especially privately maintained roads.

“We are already having problems in the summer with the number of ATVs using our private roads, which we have to maintain ourselves,” Baker said.

But residents in favor of Altitude ATV’s proposal say granting mixed-used designation for the company would provide a needed jolt to Vallecito’s economy.

“Vallecito Lake needs all the help and support it can get, as it has been depressed severely after the fires in 2002 and then the closure of Wits End Ranch in 2012 was an even more severe event for the Vallecito Lake Valley,” James Custer wrote. “This area needs much more commercial activity to bring back the large number of people that used to come here.”

While tourism in Vallecito has been improving in recent years, it’s true that the area has not recovered from the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, said Paul Eckenrode, president of the Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Because of the fires, Vallecito lost 50 percent of its lodging capacity, which hasn’t returned. The reservoir has only one marina now; at one time, there were four, Eckenrode said. And the number of year-round restaurants dropped from six to two.

“We’ve had some good years recently, but our rise is coming off of extremely difficult lows,” he said. “We’re still recovering from the fires, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get there.”

But Eckenrode said allowing businesses to offer recreational opportunities, which is Vallecito’s main draw, helps that effort.

Blaylock said he recently got La Plata County to allow ATV use on a half-mile stretch of Middle Mountain Road that connects to U.S. Forest Service land where ATV use is allowed, a critical development for his business that sits at the bottom of the road.

Some residents have even suggested opening the entire Vallecito area to ATV use.

But others adamantly oppose the notion.

Resident Karla Erickson wondered about the cost of ATVs on the beauty of Vallecito, fearing the community may end up like Silverton.

In 2014, the town of Silverton voted to open some streets to ATV use. While there’s been a notable uptick in tourism, many residents feel the town has become overrun by the vehicles.

“We live there and want to preserve the beautiful area we live in,” Erickson wrote. “We do not want to end up like Silverton.”

The La Plata County Planning Commission is set to hear the project proposal April 26.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

Jul 27, 2021
La Plata County sees increase in applications for development projects
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