Lake Nighthorse: No recreation management plan yet

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From the Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh): “The issue of providing recreation at Lake Nighthorse is gaining no ground, and the economic downturn is making progress even more problematic. Neither Colorado State Parks nor the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can oversee recreation at the reservoir being created by the Animas-La Plata Project southwest of Durango. At a public meeting held March 5 to discuss recreation at Lake Nighthorse, Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, suggested that a public or public/private partnership could step forward to manage recreation. On Friday, he said the district stands ready to help move the process along.”

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Lake Nighthorse will have a surface of 1,500 acres when the Ridges Basin Reservoir is filled to capacity in 18 months to three years. The body of water, a controversial settlement of Native American water-right claims, will provide water for three Native American tribes in Colorado and New Mexico and nontribal users. When the project was downsized in 2000, an irrigation-water component and funding for recreation were removed (although recreation itself remained).

The 2000 environmental study of Lake Nighthorse described a recreation area that could accommodate 1,980 visitors at a time, with annual use topping 218,000 user days. There would be 196 campsites and 38 picnic areas, 10 miles of hiking trails, fishing and a four-lane boat ramp. Now only the boat ramp, funded from a different source, is a sure amenity. Through the efforts of state Sen. Jim Isgar, the state provided $750,000 of severance taxes that was used to leverage $2.25 million in Wallop-Breaux funds. Wallop-Breaux money comes from a federal fuel tax on motorboats and small engines. Ozga said the boat ramp must be in place within three years after the Animas-La Plata Project is completed. The Bureau of Reclamation plans to start filling the reservoir from the Animas River this spring. “We’ll open the boat ramp, but only the boat ramp, to the public after the reservoir is filled,” Ozga said. “But the rest of the area will remain closed until a manager and appropriate recreation facilities are in place. We have to protect the land from damage due to uncontrolled public use.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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