Lake Nighthorse Entities Scramble to Open for Recreation

Frustration over the lack of recreation at Lake Nighthorse is growing and potential users of the lake and surrounding park land are getting antsy; there is even talk of an Occupy Nighthorse movement. That is because all recreation (e.g., biking, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, etc.) at the site is off-limits until a recreation manager is hired. This is a requirement of the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), which owns the lake and surrounding land.
For background and review, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the logical and assumed manager for the lake, bowed out in the 2008-2009 timeframe, saying it had other priorities and no finances. Since no one stepped forward, the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) provided $35,000 in seed money and the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) contributed $25,000. In addition, in-kind assistance was provided by the National Park Service and a consultant was hired to draft a recreation master plan. Then, in 2011 the City of Durango became interested possibly managing recreation at the lake. Those plans, however, remain on hold until numerous complex issues are worked out. According to an August 19th Durango Herald article, among the major unsettled issues are: 
  • -  Durango wants to annex the area to be able to provide police security, but the major recipients of Lake Nighthorse water—the two Ute tribes, say annexation is unacceptable.
  • -  In a June 19 resolution, the Southern Ute Tribal Council said the Ute tribes must have a central role in recreation decisions; that the state is best able to manage recreation and that the two tribes stand ready to help find funding; and that Utes must be able to exercise Brunot Treaty rights that allow them to hunt on ancestral lands.
  • -  New Native American cultural artifacts found in the vicinity of the proposed swimming beach will require documentation and preservation.
    -  In May, Russ Howard, General Manager of the Animas-La Plata Operations Maintenance and Replacement Association (ALPOMRA)—the owners of the water, said the Association or one of its members is best qualified to manage recreation. This position is disputed, however, by the ALPWCD because they contend that ALPOMRA doesn’t meet the definition of a public government body, which is required to manage recreation. The ALPWCD contends that the ALPOMRA was formed as a nonprofit.

    Bob Wolff, Chairman of the ALPWCD, lays the blame for the unsettled situation on the lack of leadership by the BOR, which he said has “dilly-dallied” for two years in picking a recreation manager. In a June 18 letter to Larry Walkoviak, regional director of the BOR in Salt Lake City, Wolff said, “The current status of the recreational component at Lake Nighthorse is a disaster.”
Ed Warner from the BOR in Grand Junction said there are many “hot issues” to resolve. “The who, what and how, take time,” Warner said. “We’re trying to work with everybody. Who is going to be the recreation manager is by no means agreed,” he said. “Our job is to address issues and see who is left standing.” Ultimately, however, the goal of everyone is to get recreation open as soon as possible.