Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Report from Silent Nighthorse

I met with several people from the Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday at a meeting put together by several landowners whose property abuts BuRec land around the reservoir in Ridges Basin. The BuRec staff were helpful, and the meeting clarified and sorted out some issues, and generated some thought on others.

In particular, the meeting addressed the fence being constructed in Ridges Basin, public access and recreation management, and motorized boating on "Campbell Reservoir."

The fence

Several of the property owners were concerned about a $442,000 fence the Bureau has recently surveyed and staked out, construction of which is set to begin later this month (June). Folks are concerned about access and wildlife effects.

The fence is three strands of high-tensile smooth wire (not barbed wire). It stands three-feet at the top, and so is considered "wildlife friendly." (Although someone at the meeting questioned that, having seen what such fences can do so horses.)

The fence will be primarily along the western side of the reservoir, from Basin Ridge to the new County Road 210 (which replaced CR211). Along CR210, areas will be fenced as needed to deter off-road travel.

The fence is rather standard operating procedure at BuRec sites. The purpose of the fence, it explained, is to deter trespass, particulary by ATVs and 4x4s, and to mark the Bureau's boundary so property owners don't "encroach" onto BuRec land.

Some at the meeting argued that the private property along the fence line would already keep people out, and that the topography there is difficult to access anyway.


The reservoir at this point is expected to allow motorboating, especially after a four-lane concrete boat ramp was constructed. BUT: No management plan is yet in place, and invasive mussels are an issue than can yet effect that mandate.

While at places like Vallecito inspection stations are being employed to keep invasive species from catching rides on boats into new waters, other places that are presently clean and without boating have been kept boat-free or motorless to deter invasive species.

And since "Campbell Reservoir" will be a clean body of water -- and likely good invasive mussel habitat (which is being studied now) -- that argument may be a strong one here.

Public access and recreation

This was the most interesting part to me -- the topic area that seemed to suggest the biggest opportunity to influence the future of Ridges Basin.

There is presently no public access to the BuRec land surrounding "Campbell Reservoir." And despite newspaper reports of Ridges Basin opening to the public once the reservoir is full, we were told there will not be public access until a land manager -- either a government agency or through private contractors -- is found and puts a recreation plan in place.

(For examples, other BuRec projects are ... Navajo Reservoir is managed by Colorado and New Mexico State Parks, Lemon Reservoir is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and Vallecito is managed by the Pine River Conservation District.)

Right now, the ALPWCD and SWWCD are taking on the task of starting to create a recreation plan. But they have little money, and seem likely to seek out private partners if no agency steps forward to fill the void. So far, all agencies have bowed out of the offer.

It seems to me that the private contractor/partner option -- enlisting companies willing to invest in recreation with an eye toward turning a profit -- is the worst-case scenario. Right behind that is Colorado State Parks, which basically run state parks as industrial-recreation cash registers.

It seems like the City of Durango and/or La Plata County could step here -- either as managers themselves, creating city or county park, or as forces pushing another agency to act. They could then perhaps be persuaded to see the marketing value of offering an alternative amenity to Durango-type vaction folks and locals: a beautiful quiet (motorless) lake and park just outside of town.

The best bet, though -- perhaps the agence most aligned to the motorless/low-development argument -- might be the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It makes sense:

- CDOW already managed the area for more than 15 years.

- The Bodo family intended the land be kept undeveloped for wildlife.

- If left motorless and undeveloped, the land would return the land (to some degree anyway) to its priceless role of being an essential wildlife sanctuary in our increasingly developed area -- which is what the Division of Wildlife is for.

- The Durango area can still reap the marketing rewards of having a lake and de-facto park for its human-powered outdoors tourist and local demographic. (And so the City and County could push for CDOW to come on board for the sake of "saving" the area.)

Conclusions (mine, I mean)

After this meeting, I've come to think that some key strategies here area

- to encourage some agency to take over the management of recreation in Ridges Basin.

- the best agency will be one predilicted toward keeping the area motorless and undeveloped.

- the CDOW might be the best choice for that, especially with the support of Durango and La Plata County.

- therefore, also push for a view of a Silent Nighthorse as a blessing, as a environmental gift, AND as a great economic marketing tool for the area!

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