Serving the High Plains

Respondents support preservation of lodge

Respondents overwhelmingly supported proposals to fully or partially preserve the long-closed Conchas Lodge on the south side of Conchas Lake, according to findings from an open-records request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that manages the property.

The corps in July invited participation in a public scoping, or submitting feedback, on the possible future of Conchas Lodge. It was built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has been managed by the corps and New Mexico State Parks.

Conchas Lodge closed in 2005 after a private concessionaire ran it. The corps described the property in "marginal" condition after years of deferred maintenance and vandalism. The lodge sits about 30 miles northwest of Tucumcari in San Miguel County.

Three of the corps' proposals would renovate and reopen all or part of the facility, and one would bulldoze it. According to scoping documents obtained by the Quay County Sun through a Freedom of Information act request, only one of the 54 responses advocated for razing all the structures there and returning the site to a natural area. Several respondents urged the corps to not consider the Option D teardown.

The corps redacted almost all the names and addresses of those who responded to the scoping, although a few identified themselves in their comments, including Quay County Commissioner Sue Dowell, who publicly has stated her support for the lodge's preservation.

Two responses remained unredacted because they came from state officials.

Most of the respondents favored Option A, which would rehabilitate the original lodge and lodging rooms, remove all non-historic sections that include Fisherman's Wharf and east annex, open a full-service restaurant or catering kitchen and install a patio with native landscaping in the former pool area.

Running a close second was Option B, which would rehabilitate the original lodge, remove all non-historic sections, install low-maintenance modular cabins, build a campground to include tent and RV spaces, add shower and restroom facilities, convert a former gift shop into a seasonal sundries store and build a patio in the former pool area.

Running a distant third was Option C, which would rehabilitate the original lodge hall for special-event use, remove the entire west wing but keep the low-wall remnants, remove all non-historic sections, keep the walls and ceiling of the former restaurant and add a patio in the former pool area.

Several respondents stated they would favor any proposal that would preserve all or part of the lodge.

Several wrote that Conchas Lake in general needs more amenities, and a refurbished lodge would help with that.

"I feel the options have been so limited over the past ten years that it has had a dramatic effect on the popularity and visitations at the lake," one person wrote. " ... It makes it very difficult to enjoy the lake unless you own a place or are willing to camp. This is unfortunate. A renovated Lodge and dining area would be outstanding and I believe would quickly re-energize the lake and once again make it an attractive destination for people from all over the state."

Another person stated: "We also desperately need a marina with fuel, a small store and boat slots. The entire area should be built back up into the thriving entity it was prior to the drastic drop in water levels many years ago. It is a beautiful lake with great potential; capitalize on its potential and make it an asset again."

Another wrote: "The area around Conchas lake is in dire need of a restaurant. When we get tired of cooking our own food we have to go either into Santa Rosa or Tucumcari for food. And the lake really needs more RV dedicated camping as the existing camp sites I sometimes have to book months in advance to ensure I get an electric site."

One person stated the preservation options are "a good start but does not go far enough." He or she stated the lodge should have a swimming pool and hot tubs.

"The Lodge, fully functioning with restaurants, bands playing music every Saturday and an RV park, will get the revenue coming back in and give people a reason to 'check it out'. Don't stop there! Bring back a full marina with an 'on the water' restaurant, store, gas station, boat slips, and yes indoor night fishing house for the cooler nights (another memory as a kid). Bring in ski competitions, swimming competitions and boat races. And while you are at it include the newer activities like paddle boarding and bouncing houses!"

The writer added: "We don't need the Racino to come to the area, we need to invest here at Conchas Lake!"

Another person said 10 motel rooms at the lodge "most likely would not be enough lodging" and that campground cabins for those wanting to use the site for a wedding or conference would be "questionable."

One respondent chided the corps for not having more detail in the proposals.

"Your request for a vote of choice is pretty much 'pie in the sky' without more detail, budget info, feasibility studies, focus groups, leasing / management /concessionaire options, etc. I believe in the 'build it and they'll come mentality' ...but, this must be supported by an ABSOLUTE COMITTMENT to a high standard of service and cleanliness. If one or the other fails, it won't be sustainable!"

Another respondent questioned the corps' commitment to the lake: "With USACE running the South side of the lake, the area has not made new improvements and has seemed to downgrade it's current facilities."

Several respondents offered their memories of the site.

"As a child, when the Lodge was still operational, we stayed there countless times. I have such fond memories of catching frogs outside at night on wet years, eating at the restaurant looking over the lake and buying Beanie Babies from the lady that ran the Lodge," one respondent wrote. "I love that I'm now able to take my kids there to create memories and would love to have a place to eat and spend time while we are there."

One response apparently came from a representative of FNB New Mexico (now AimBank): "FNB New Mexico would like to emphasize our firm approval of any restoration project to the old Conchas Lodge, preferable Option A. ... We believe this would be a vital project to continue to grow our area and increase our local tourist traffic."

Among the unredacted responses were from Daniel Gutierrez, New Mexico MainStreet director, and William Powell, New Mexico MainStreet revitalization specialist. They advocated Options A or B.

"New Mexico Mainstreet also works closely with New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and we would like to offer the Corp and the community with any technical assistance that may be helpful within Section 106 guidelines," they wrote. "Thank you for taking the efforts to conserve the Conchas Lodge and let us know how we can be of assistance in the future."

Michelle Ensey, deputy state historic preservation officer and state archaeologist for New Mexico's Historic Preservation Division, asked for more information about the corps' proposals and did not advocate for any of them.

Peter Parham, natural resources manager at Conchas Dam, stated Friday in an email "I do not have a good idea when a decision will be made" about the lodge.

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