Emerald land purchase celebrated in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Emerald land purchase celebrated in Steamboat Springs

Visions for open space includes Nordic center, expanded trail system

Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group president Dan Smilkstein speaks during Saturday's ceremony at the base of Howelsen Hill.Matt Stensland

— Community members on Saturday celebrated the addition of 586 acres of Emerald Mountain open space that will be undeveloped and publicly available in perpetuity.

New York's "Central Park is a great park, but it can't beat this," Steamboat Springs City Council member Walter Magill said. "It puts us up there."

About 30 gathered at the base of Howelsen Hill for the dedication Saturday. The plan was to ride the chairlift and take a short hike to the property, but constant rain kept the speeches in the yurt by the Alpine Slide. The speeches were followed by a soggy ribbon-cutting ceremony in the nearby grass at the base of Emerald.

"It's unique beyond unique," said Grant Fenton, a leader of local Bike Town USA efforts. "It's amazing what this community can do when it comes together in a collaborative way."

Emerald has many uses, but Fenton said the $1.3 million land purchase was an example of why Steamboat recently was recognized along with 13 other cities with gold status from the Bicycle Friendly Community group.

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City officials spent months debating and negotiating the purchase of the land on the north side of Emerald owned by Lyman Orton. It was a tough sell for some as the city faced a shrinking budget that had led to a reduction in city services and furloughs for some city employees.

The purchase was finalized on March 16. It was paid for using a $600,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant and about $755,000 from the city's capital improvements fund.

Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park will manage the property and spearhead fundraising efforts for improvements. Groups including the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Routt County Riders and others are involved under the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park umbrella. Visions for the land include a Nordic center, an expanded trail system and multifaceted recreational use.

"This time we did it right," said Dan Smilkstein, president of Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park. "A lot of us have been enjoying this for years, but now it's in the public domain."

Orton did not attend Saturday's ceremony, but several people recognized him for his generosity and willingness to work with stakeholders in the land purchase.

Smilkstein said the property once owned by Orton would help connect the other thousands of acres of publicly-accessible land on Emerald.

Smilkstein said the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group now will start working on developing a master plan for the property.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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