But since it was closed to camping in 2006, the recreation area near Dolores has lost its appeal, says the Montezuma County Commission.
To spur lake recreation and take advantage of the most convenient shoreline on the lake, the county is again lobbying to reopen the area for overnight use.
“People used to be able to bring boats and campers and camp out there, then there was some problems with vandalism, and it was closed,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “We want to see it reopen it for camping.”
But the U.S. Forest Service is not planning to reopen the area to camping, said Dolores ranger Derek Padilla, because it doesn’t have the budget to manage an additional campground.
However, the county has the option of negotiating a management partnership with the county that could result camping returning. The memorandum of agreement would require the county to provide financial assistance and labor to handle campground operations.
“We presented the option to them, and it is incumbent on them to come forward,” Padilla said. “We’re willing to discuss it but we need specifics from the county.”
A stumbling block is the potential for additional archaeological studies at Sage Hen before it could be reopened for camping. Whether a cultural study is required needs to be assessed, Padilla said.
“It would put the county in a bind if have to do more archaeological studies,” Suckla said. “They were already been done there when the reservoir was built, and to repeat them would slow everything down.”
Transfer it to the county?Rather than co-management with the Forest Service, the commissioners would rather go further and get the Sage Hen area transferred to the county. A land transfer from the federal government would require approval from the U.S. Congress through legislation.
“It’s happened before when Joe Rowell Park was transferred from the Forest Service to the town of Dolores, so it is possible,” Suckla said.
The county is lobbying U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to help them reopen the campground, preferably through a bill to transfer it.
But Ann McCoy, and aide for Gardner, told the commissioners Monday that a memorandum of agreement is preferable.
“The transfer is a more difficult process,” she said.
Commissioner James Lambert says the land transfer would be the better alternative “because then the land would not be under federal regulations.”
Liz Payne, communications director for Tipton’s office, said they have had initial meetings with the county to discuss options.
“An MOA process goes much quicker,” she said, “where a land conveyance can take many years and is a really complicated process.”
Ranger Padilla said impacts to the Sage Hen area have improved since it was closed off to camping, which stopped the late-night partying that was occurring.
Vandalism and trash is still a problem, Padilla said. A pit toilet was so heavily damaged the Forest Service must remove it.
If a co-management deal is reached or a land transfer occurs, forest and reservoir officials do not want Sage Hen to become another boat launch. To prevent an invasive mussel contamination, boat launches are only allowed at the House Creek and McPhee boat ramps when boat inspection stations are open.
Volunteers, sheriff to helpMontezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said his office would work with the county on providing patrols of the campground if it does reopen. He said the Forest Service kicks in $5,000 per year to the sheriff office to help offset patrols on federal lands, such as during the hunting season and for lake calls. Additional funding would help cover patrols on federal lands.
Lloyd Powers, a longtime advocate of reopening the Sage Hen campground, told the commissioners he could restart Citizens for Sage Hen, a group of volunteers willing to help manage it.
“But I can’t get them to volunteer unless they know they can go and camp there,” he said. “When people volunteer to build a trail, they know they will be able to use it. Same goes for our volunteer group with regards to camping at Sage Hen.”
Powers remembers family camping trips to Sage Hen. It was popular for RVs, and boats already on the lake would pull up to the shore and camp for the night.
“It was a favorite spot close to local towns, and people miss it,” he said. “A lot of us can’t understand why it has not been reopened for camping.”
To access the Sage Hen area from Dolores, drive south on Colorado Highway 145 and west on Colorado Highway 184 for about 7 miles to County Road 25. Turn north into the McPhee Recreation Area complex and take a right on Road X.