Dolores recreation is opening up on several fronts beginning this week.
The McPhee Reservoir boat ramp, boat inspection station and Doc’s Marina will open on Saturday. Hours will be 8 a.m.-6 p.m. until May 1, then 6 a.m.-8 p.m. The House Creek boat ramp will open on May 1.
To prevent an invasive mussel contamination, it is mandatory for all motorized and trailered boats to access the lake through boat inspection and decontamination stations at either the McPhee or House Creek boat ramps.
Nonmotorized boats such as kayaks, canoes, rafts, paddleboards and sailboards are allowed to hand-launch onto the lake from anywhere without inspection, unless they are launched from a trailer. Electric trollers, previously allowed to launch without being inspected under state rules, now face inspection because they might have new motors that hold water.
Regardless of type, all boats should be drained, dried and cleaned before and after leaving any waterway to prevent spread of the mussel.
Stan Folsom, owner of Doc’s Marina, said he plans to move his marina into place Friday at the McPhee boat ramp and be open this weekend. The marina provides fuel, boat slips and buoys, and has a convenience store with ice, drinks, food and fishing tackle. Doc’s also has rentals for pontoon and ski boats.
“It should be a good season for boating, water skiing and fishing,” Folsom said. “The lower lake level will open up more beaches for people to explore.”
To accommodate the recreating public, the U.S. Forest Service opened up the lake to motorized boating two weeks early this year.
But access will continue to be tighter than before mussels became a risk. McPhee managers have been limiting boating access on McPhee to avoid the invasive zebra and quagga mussel, which can cause severe damage to irrigation infrastructure and lake ecology.
The non-native mussel can travel in boat holds and engines from infested waters.
McPhee is mussel-free, but is considered high risk because of ts proximity to infested lakes such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
“We have to be very protective of our water source, so that is why we having been controlling access a lot more,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages McPhee.
Last year, McPhee access at Big Bend, the Dolores Cemetery and Sage Hen were blocked by boulders and cement barriers to stop motorized launches.
The areas do not have boat inspection stations because there’s a lack of funding.
As part of an emergency order to prevent the mussel’s spread, Montezuma County Board of Commissioners last year closed the Sage Hen road (Road X). The road was reopened in the fall.
James Dietrich, public lands manager for the county, said the Sage Hen road will remain open for this year’s McPhee boating season on a trial basis.
“If we see unauthorized motorized launches, it will be closed again,” he said.
The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has reported illegal motorized boat launches from the Dolores Cemetery and Big Bend. Also, boulders blocking vehicle access at Sage Hen have been moved, possibly for motorized lake access. The boulders have since been set into the ground.
Statewide, there has been a funding shortage for boat inspection stations after severance taxes from oil and gas operations declined.
Last week, to help stabilize funding, the Colorado Legislature passed the Mussel Free Colorado Act.
The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, implements a boat sticker and fee program that will raise $2.5 million per year for boat inspection stations.
The new fee is a backfill solution to replace some of the lost severance tax funding previously relied on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Preston said.
McPhee has a budget of $100,000 per year for boat inspections, Preston said. The cost is divided evenly among Dolores Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Reclamation.
An extremely dry winter left snowpack at below 50 percent this year. Therefore, there will be no whitewater release below McPhee Dam for the lower Dolores River.
However, there will be a short rafting season on the upper Dolores from Rico to Dolores as the warm weather melts the limited snowpack.
On Sunday, the Dolores River at Dolores jumped from 80 cubic feet per second to over 200 cfs, then to 240 cfs early Monday, enough to float a small inflatable. Wearing a wetsuit is strongly advised. As of Tuesday, the river was running 175 cfs. In Rico, the river has climbed from 25 cfs to 100 cfs in the past few days.
Also in Dolores, the popular 6-mile McPhee Overlook Trail, which connects the town with the House Creek campground, opens April 15 from the trailhead to May Canyon. The rest of the trail opens on May 1. The Forest Service trail is closed in winter to protect big-game winter range from disturbance.
Also, the Boggy Draw trail system above Dolores is dry and ridable – the earliest mountain biking start in recent memory.