Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lake Nighthorse recreation plan dooms Ridges Basin

Game over.

And the game has been over for a long time, I came to realize once I saw the Lake Nighthorse draft recreation plan. It was just that a lot of us hadn't realized it. But any illusions to the contrary -- that the game might still be on, that there might still really be a chance to keep what was left of the precious undeveloped, quiet, wildlife-filled rarity that is Ridges Basin -- were fully put to rest at the public meeting on Monday, April 11.

On that night it became clear that Ridges Basin, and the reservoir contained therein created by the Animas-La Plata Project, was going to become an abomination, an orgy of motorized and industrial-scale fee-driven recreation. Truly Lake Nightmare. 

To some of us, anyway. And to us, my friends and fellow lovers of the open space and wildlife in Ridges Basin, the game has been over since A-LP was passed years ago. 

I partook in several of the extensive recreation plan workshops and meetings put on by the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and DHM Design. And I think those folks were earnest, sincere and professional in their efforts managing the recreation-plan process. But what people -- especially naive people like me -- didn't realize about the process itself was this: 

The Lake Nighthorse recreation planning process was never about debating the merits of developing Ridges Basin versus preserving the basin's remaining open space and quietude. It was about accommodating as many users and uses as possible. This process was predestined to -- it was, in fact, designed to -- find and define a "community designed" scaffolding supporting the highest point of the bell curve of all possible uses of Ridges Basin and Nighthorse Reservoir.

And what does the draft plan say the community has decided it wants to do with this still-undeveloped area just outside of downtown Durango? To accept nearly every use imaginable tempered by minimal restrictions (such as no wake zones, designated-use trail segments, an inspection station for invasive species, and a multi-stage filter system for parking-lot runoff) so those many varying uses can co-exist side-by-side.
The draft plan also acknowledges that accommodating the many needs of all these uses and their numerous impacts will be expensive. That's why a marketing consultant advised the crowd that development of the area will require maximum marketing and build-out to lure the maximum "user days" using maximum fee-charging facilities ("Trail users just aren't as good revenue producers as motor boaters," the consultant advised) to maximize income in order to cover the expenses from this full-use build-out.

At full build-out, the consultant estimated it will take 154,000 paying-user-days per year to cover the area's development and maintenance costs. In a 100-day season, that's more than 150 boats (those better revenue producers) per day on that little reservoir.

Basically, whoever takes over management of Ridges Basin (since no public entities have stepped to the plate) will have to shill the hell out of it to make it pay. Welcome to Lake Nightwhores. 

Here are other numbers offered at the meeting illustrating this maximum marketing and build-out: 
  • Paved parking: 
    • 209 parking spaces
    • 22 trailer parking spaces
    • 25 boat ramp area parking spaces and 
    • 30 boat trailer spaces 
  • Campground off County Road 210:
    • 41 sites
    • 5 group sites
    • Day use area
  • A "Tribute garden" highway pull-off scenic overlook, with facilities, off CR210.
  • Extensive trail system encircling the reservoir, with various uses (horse, foot, mountain bike). (There will be seasonal closings of portions of the Basin for wildlife.)
  • Interpretation facilities to show (of course!) what was once there. 
  • The reservoir itself will be divided into several "zones": 
    • Zone 1 swim beach (no wake)
    • Zone 2 west side shallows (no wake)
    • Zone 4 inlet structure (no wake)
    • and Zone 3 center of lake for "open use"
This, of course, means that the development of Ridges Basin now has everything to do with money and motors and maximum marketing potential (even under the guise of a "community process"). And it means it has nothing to do with preservation or quiet or even justice. 

(Justice? Preservation? Sure. Lest we forget: Ridges Basin was deeded by the Bodo Family to the Nature Conservancy, who passed it to the Colorado Division of Wildlife with a "forever for wildlife" clause; the Bodo State Wildlife Area was created and funded with monies from hunting and fishing licences; when the Bureau of Reclamation couldn't acquire the land legally, they condemned and took possession of it. So, in a nutshell, we have a government-taking of a publicly owned and funded resource which is now using government money to enrich private industry. Which begs the question: Where are them Tea Partiers when you need'em?)

Given that, for most there at the meeting (for it seemed like the non-motorized crowd had withered away, knowing what was coming) the event was celebratory and festive and self-congratulatory -- like divvying up the booty after a successful raid. 

And for those bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, wildlife-loving sorts like myself, it was a funeral.

Game over. 


Read the Lake Nighthorse draft management plan here

Learn more about Ridges Basin and Lake Nighthorse here
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