After years of dispute about jurisdiction, an agreement has been reached that will allow Nordic skiing to return to Vallecito Reservoir in full, which is expected to take effect this winter.
For years, Nordic skiers traveled to Vallecito Reservoir, about 20 miles northeast of Durango, to hit the 7 to 10 miles of Nordic trails on the east side of the lake.
In 2017, however, the trail that follows the reservoir’s beach on the eastern edge of the lake, considered the most scenic of the routes, was closed to Nordic skiers, effectively eliminating nearly 50% of all the groomed terrain in the area.
Most of the Nordic skiing terrain is on U.S. Forest Service land. The portions closed, however, fall under the jurisdiction of the Pine River Irrigation District, the operating body that manages the reservoir, under the authority of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
PRID closed the trails because it wanted to institute a new fee for people using its land, but for the past four years, issues and complications arose over whether PRID had the authority to charge such a fee.
In the meantime, as the problem couldn’t be resolved, the trails were closed every winter since 2017.
A spokeswoman with the Forest Service said staff members familiar with the issue were out of the office this week and unable to comment.
Ken Beck, PRID superintendent, said it was ultimately determined the district could enact a fee. An agreement for the new fee structure has yet to be signed, but is “imminent,” Beck said.
“It’s been a long time now,” he said. “It’s good to get this signed.”
Under the new fee structure, Nordic skiers will pay the same as other recreational users of Vallecito: $5 for a day pass or $50 for an annual pass.
The Durango Nordic Ski Center near Purgatory Resort, by contrast, charges adults around $140 for a season pass and $15 for a day pass to ski its about 12.5 miles of trails.
“It’s very reasonable,” Beck said of the new fee. “We’re not trying to lead the pack on having the highest fees. We are trying to make sure it’s level-handed in the fee structure with all recreators.”
Beck said that although the agreement hasn’t been signed yet, Vallecito is operating as if it’s in place. People can Nordic ski and are asked to purchase a pass.
The new fee will go toward the operation and maintenance of PRID, which in turn, helps fund recreational opportunities, Beck said.
But Beck said the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club is still responsible for grooming the trails. The club asks the public to buy a membership or donate to help pay for grooming and other costs, but it is not required.
PRID and the Ski Club have been working closely throughout the process and have collaborated to make operations run smoothly at the reservoir.
So far this year, about 70 people have signed up for an annual PRID pass, and about the same number of people bought memberships for the club, said Vallecito Nordic Ski Club Vice President John Byrd.
“We’ve had a great response,” he said.
Byrd said the club has been doing a good job getting the messaging out about the new structure.
“It’s going to be a real good partnership now that it’s settled,” he said. “I just expect there to be great skiing.”
One priority for both groups will be to educate the public about the new fee structure, Beck said. While education will be the main goal, invested stakeholders are expected to talk about how best to enforce the fee.
“We want to keep it low-key,” Beck said.
Once the agreement is in place, Beck said all the groups will come together and think of ways to enhance the recreational experience at Vallecito.
For instance, hikers and snowshoers don’t necessarily blend well on groomed Nordic ski trails. So the idea has been suggested to create a foot path for hikers and snowshoers with picnic benches along it.
And, perhaps, there could be a trail around the entire lake.
“It’s a real triumph for myself and others who have been working on it,” Beck said.
Calls to Paul Eckenrode, president of the Vallecito Chamber of Commerce, were not immediately returned Wednesday morning. In a previous interview, he stressed how important winter recreation is for the community.
“Vallecito Nordic (Ski Club) is a great asset to the Vallecito Lake community ... and we support any efforts to have all its trails open,” he said.