Steamboat Ski Area bike trails pushed to 2012 | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Ski Area bike trails pushed to 2012

Work could begin Aug. 6 on downhill park

— Downhill mountain bikers eager to ride Steamboat Springs will have to wait until next summer. In the face of a long U.S. Forest Service approval process, the downhill mountain bike park slated to be built on Mount Werner won't be open until next spring at the earliest, a Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman said today.

"Aug. 6 is the first day we can get on the U.S. Forest Service land," Loryn Kasten said. "The plan is still in motion. Everything's moving forward, but it will be next year that people can get out there."

As a wet spring gave way to summer and the USFS's approval process dragged on, it became less and less likely that riders would be able to put rubber to dirt on the new trails in 2011. The delay relates to the multiple levels of public comment built into any serious project taking place on Forest Service ground, which in Steamboat accounts for most of the terrain in the planned downhill park.

An initial plan was presented early last summer. It received several modifications last summer and was opened up to public comment in the fall. More modifications were introduced early this year, and a second public comment period followed.

The second period didn't result in any serious complaints, the Forest Service's Kent Foster said, but it still had to be followed by a 45-day appeal period to allow anyone to speak up who felt he or she had previously been ignored.

Foster said the clock on that 45-day period got a late start thanks to vacancies at his office. Once it's complete — July 29 — it will still be followed by five additional days to allow any mailed complaints to reach Forest Service offices.

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Then, finally, work can begin.

That date, after all the comment, appeal and waiting periods, is set for Aug. 6.

"The 45-day waiting period is killing me because I don't think we'll get an appeal," Foster said. "But you never know."

Steamboat Ski Area has begun work on lower sections of the trail, which are on its private property. Once the resort gets the green light, it will be immediately approved to build up to 20 miles of trail in the new park.

"It's just a part of the process. In a noncontroversial project with a lot of support, it may seem frustrating, but the reason we have these rules in place is to fully disclose to the public the effects of any action on public land," Foster said. "Here we are with bulldozers and heavy equipment waiting, ready to go for a project that has a lot of support, but this is the same process we'd use for a major development, something that may be more controversial."

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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