Home is where the yurt is


— The wooden-framed circular yurts dotting the backcountry or the outskirts of a campground give outdoor lovers a clean getaway from city life.

Whether a yurt has multiple feet of snow around it or has the canvas pulled up to catch the summer breeze, yurts seem to be growing in popularity.

According to a United Kingdom yurt company, Woodland Yurts, a yurt is a replica of a Mongolian ger built mostly in central Asia. The nomads of central Asia have been living in yurts for more than 2,000 years and can erect them in 30 minutes and take them down in 15 minutes.

Karen Vail of Partners in Interpretation said she knows many who use yurts as their home away from home during the summer.

In collaboration with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Steamboat Ski Area and the U.S. Forest Service, Partners in Interpretation utilizes an empty yurt atop Mount Werner as its Nature Den.

The Nature Den is full of children's activities, wildflowers, facts about bears, information about the blowdown and imitation beetles that live in the Yampa Valley.

"We have a captive audience up there. People are either going for a walk or just coming back from one," Vail said.

"This gives them some hands-on knowledge."

The Nature Den is open from the time the gondola opens until it closes and provides expert guidance Thursdays and Sundays.

During the winter, Vail said the Nature Den is turned into a ski rental demonstration area, so Partners had to put it to good use in the summer.

"It was just sitting there," Vail said.

Partners provided Saturday and Sunday hikes for people in past years; however, when those hikes were limited to Saturdays, Vail said the four organizations came up with the Nature Den inside the yurt as a way to ensure educating people on the area's cultural and natural resources.

The Nature Den is just one example of how yurts can be used. Most often, yurts provide shelter from the blistering sun in summer or from heavy snow in the winter.

Kent Eriksen has a yurt on his property near Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

"I get a lot of requests and calls. They always want to rent it," Eriksen said.

Although the yurt is not for rent, Eriksen said it has become a great place to stash guests.

While yurts can stand up to multiple feet of snow each winter, Eriksen said he let it go too long and now has to replace the roof before winter. The plexiglass roof can be opened with a hand crank and keeps the stars visible from the inside, just like a tent or tepee.

Ken Brink, park manager at Steamboat Lake State Park, said more and more people are searching for that atypical vacation they're not quite ready to rough it in a sleeping bag under the stars but they don't want to stay in a hotel, either.

Yurts give people that middle ground.

"We're finding people that might not own camping gear but still want to get in the outdoors. They really eat up these yurts," Brink said. "These are people who don't traditionally camp but may have young kids."

The company in Durango that built the yurts at Pearl Lake, 30 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, has been building yurts for individuals who want a different vacation home than many others, Brink said.

"Maybe a couple used to hut ski and now they have a baby. They can still go out and have the same kind of experience," Brink said. "You really do feel like you're in the backcountry. I think if we were to plow the roads, people wouldn't want us to."

Pearl Lake yurts have a minimum stay of two days and a maximum of 14 days. Rented yurts are $40 for a couple and $60 for up to six people. Prices change in the winter.

A yurt includes a large wooden frame, a rubberized canvas covering and plastic windows.

Brink said those at Pearl Lake have ceiling fans, a chest of drawers, electric heat and outlets.

About two years ago, the state park's board of directors went on a voluntary road trip to find out the secrets of success of other state parks in the country.

When they stopped in Oregon, yurts seemed to spark the board's interest, and construction on the yurts began near the campground soon afterward.

"They were a lot of movers and shakers that were into trying new things," Brink said.

The state park built two yurts at Pearl Lake and two in Ridgeway near Montrose, the two pilot yurts for a state park in Colorado.

Brink said the yurt business for the state park has been successful with the yurts staying nearly during the high season months.


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