Forging a new trail

Howelsen Meadows nordic skiing path is being extended

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— Area residents who have spotted what appears to be road construction wrapping around the east flank of Howelsen Hill needn't worry.

The construction is not a two-lane road leading to the newest luxury housing subdivision; rather, it's a path to improved cross-country skiing at Howelsen.

City Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Chris Wilson said construction is under way on an extension of the Howelsen Meadows nordic skiing trail.

Howelsen Hill is a city park and the trail project is a joint effort of the city and the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council. It is being built in a 177-acre open space parcel acquired by the city in January 1998 with the help of a series of grants from Great Outdoors Colorado.

The city also has a lease to operate a portion of the looped trail this winter on land owned by Dave Combs. An additional Great Outdoors Colorado grant is available to purchase that land, and the city is working on funding the grant match, Wilson said. For this winter, brush will be cut on the Combs property, but no permanent construction will take place there.

"Dave Combs has been great," Wilson said. "The city and (Sombrero Stables), both have leases to cross his land."

Dan Smilkstein, president of the Nordic Council, said cross-country skiers enjoyed good skiing on Howelsen Meadows last winter, but it was difficult for intermediates to access because of the steep climb from Howelsen's base to the rolling terrain in the meadows. The new trail will afford a far gentler climb into the meadows, Smilkstein promised. The new trail will be between 2 and 3 kilometers in length.

"There was certainly a need to have trails that are easier to access," Smilkstein said.

He said the trail work is being accomplished thanks to the donation of heavy equipment and operators by Ed MacArthur of Native Excavating. Bob Furman of Civil Design Consultants has contributed engineering work to the project. The Nordic Council has contributed $5,000 of its own funding together with $10,000 in funding from the Steamboat Contributions Committee. The source of that money is the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. The city has devoted many staff hours to the project. The Nordic Council also has access to $50,000 in funds contributed by Martin Hart, developer of the Sanctuary subdivision. However, that money is not being tapped for this phase of the trail work.

Smilkstein said the trail is being built in close consultation with former Olympic nordic combined skier Todd Wilson. He is the nordic program director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

A kiosk incorporating a trail map will be built at the bottom of the trail system, Smilkstein said, and directional signs will be installed along its margin. A picnic area is also being planned along the trail, Smilkstein said. The scarred ground resulting from the construction will be planted with native grasses late this fall.

The trail winds through stands of aspen before gaining Howelsen Meadows. It will link with another 3 kilometers of trails in the meadow, plus 2 kilometers in Orton meadows, 3 to 4 kilometers in the area known as The Fingers, and more advanced trails that lead to the quarry on Emerald Mountain.

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