Breakwater to block boat-rocking waves

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Nolan Randolph and William McLaughlin, with Maness & Associates, sur

By Jim Mimiaga
Journal Staff Writer

Launching a boat at the McPhee Reservoir boat ramp west of Dolores can be a harrowing experience on a windy day, because there is no breakwater. But that is all about to change.

Sometime this summer, a engineered breakwater will be installed offshore from the ramp. The critical piece of infrastructure has been missing since the McPhee marina was destroyed by fire in 2002 and the old breakwater sank.

“Right now during high winds it is pretty exciting to launch your boat there, especially for novices,” remarked David Smith, owner of McPhee Boat Rentals. “There are have been a few wrecks there due to the high winds in the afternoon, and the way the ramp is situated along the lake is not ideal, so a breakwater will make it considerably better.”

A breakwater is a structure that is anchored to the bed of the lake and has floating buffers to ward off wind-whipped waves. It forms a wakeless, calm-water cove for boats to launch and dock.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, and Montezuma County teamed up to design and pay for the breakwater, at a cost of approximately $201,000. Montezuma County pitched in $50,000. The unit, made by Circle Zebra Fabricators, is poised for installation at the boat ramp, and workers are gearing up for the tricky job of properly installing it onto the bed of the lake.

“Essentially, we have to make sure the anchor points are in the proper location so it can be effectively adjusted to different water levels. Once that is done we can put it all in place,” explained James Dietrich, community services director for Montezuma County. “It was a process to get one that is properly engineered and will stand the test of time. It is on par with breakwaters on Lake Powell or Navajo Reservoir, and this one has a 20-year lifespan.”

The breakwater will be positioned in a ‘V’ shape with the wide portion facing out toward the lake. Winches are used to raise and lower the breakwater to adjust to fluctuating water levels. Boats will be able to enter and exit from the east and west.

Once installation is completed, maintenance will be taken over by the Forest Service, which manages recreation on McPhee.

Dietrich noted that the breakwater is phase one of a larger plan. Eventually, officials hope to install a mooring field, a series of anchors with buoys where boats can be parked and stored on the water.

A larger dream for many McPhee boating enthusiasts is bringing back a marina to the boat launch. Before it burned down in 2002, the marina boasted a full restaurant, a separate fuel station for boats, a repair shop, boat slips, and other services. The unique location on the water, and great food, made it popular, recalled Judy Balfour, who built and operated the original Beaver Creek Marina with her husband Gay.

“Everybody really loved it. It was a really nice set up,” she says. “People said it would not work because there’s not enough people, but we were doing fine. We hosted banquets and offered nice services like preparing to-go food and bringing in people’s boats from the buoys so when they came everything was ready and they could go out on the lake all day.”

McPhee Reservoir, the second largest man-made lake in the state, often is considered to be an underutilized attraction in the area. Safer boat launches will help attract more visitors.

“I couldn’t believe there were no boat rentals here, so I opened one,” said Smith, adding that renting a boat is an affordable, conveniently way to entertain friends because there is no hassle with registration, trailers and boat maintenance.

“McPhee is the best-kept secret in Colorado. I’d love to see some fishing tournaments. Those guys bring in big boats and large trucks and spend a lot of money for supplies and gas.”

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