Fate, role of reservoir in question

Wheels of development begin to turn in Stagecoach

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— On Wednesday last week, Stagecoach Reservoir State Park Manager Fred Bohlmann was standing on top of Pinnacle Peak, one of the highest points within the park.
It's only a five-minute walk up a newly refurbished trail to the peak's summit, but the panoramic view it produces of the community of Stagecoach, the reservoir, Blacktail Mountain and all the public lands in the distance, is worth a day's walk.
"It really is a nice view," Bohlmann said under the blue skies while the fresh smell of a dry trail lingers in the air.
In Bohlmann's second summer as park manager, he has overseen the expansion of summer time uses there. Since its construction in 1989, the reservoir has built a reputation for fishing early on it was trout fishing and now pike.
What Bohlmann is particularly proud of this year is the $35,000 worth of upgrades on the swim beach.
"The beach was obviously under utilized and underdeveloped," Bohlmann said.
Before 140 cubic yards of sand were brought into the site last summer, the beach was made up of tiny rocks. The water also became laced with algae later in the summer, which was a problem Bohlmann has alleviated by treating the water with a nontoxic chemical.
Before the upgrades, which started last summer, Bohlmann said the beach averaged about six to 12 visitors a day. Afterward, it was 20 to 25 people a day on the weekdays and 80 to 100 people on the weekends. He said he expects those numbers to stay consistent this summer.
Those are good numbers to add to the state park's annual patronage of 166,273 visits last year, he said. However, on top of Pinnacle Peak Wednesday, Bohlmann's eyes turned from the swim beach to the south shore of the reservoir, where a large development could be planned. If that happens, the park's patronage could increase even more, he said.
The development, which includes a golf course, is being viewed by many Realtors in Routt County as a springboard for more growth in Stagecoach.
Last July, MountainAir Company sold the 400 acres of vacant land on the south side of the reservoir for $2.65 million to real estate developer Brian Stahl of Breckenridge. On Sept. 8, Stahl and his associates submitted a conceptual plan to the county for a golf course and 500 residential units in a 20-year build-out on the piece of land.
Stahl said he hasn't given word to the county regarding if or when he will go through the planning process for this project but he says it is still in the works.
"We are certainly still focused and considering this," Stahl said Friday.
If it happens, Stahl said, the new community and Stagecoach State Park should complement and benefit each other.
Routt County Planning Commission Chairman Troy Brookshire said Stagecoach is the right area for growth, even though it is in an unincorporated part of the county. County planning officials are considering Stagecoach to be a growth center in the revision of the Routt County Master Plan. All the other growth zones are incorporated cities and towns.
"They have the infrastructure to support a population certainly larger than Oak Creek or Yampa," he said.
The Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District in Stagecoach was built to support a large community in the '70s, when developers had thousands of lots plated for a residential community. But that project went bankrupt, leaving most of the land vacant and the water district under used.
Today, if and when development happens in Stagecoach, Brookshire said he believes it will happen near the reservoir, where there are only a couple of property owners who own large parcels.
The platted subdivisions up nearby County Road 16, where there are multiple property owners with small lots, has proved to have had logistical problems getting water and sewer infrastructure, he said.
If Stahl's plan materializes, Stagecoach State Park will begin its transformation into a different type of recreation area, Bohlmann said.
"Someday, you'll be able to come up here and say, 'I remember when. ...,'" Bohlmann said, while looking at the open spaces from Pinnacle Peak.
"We are going to go from a rural park to an urban setting," he said. "It will definitely change the way we do business."
Bohlmann speculated the park would take on a character similar to Cherry Creek Reservoir State Park, which sustains a high volume of visitors within an urban setting.
Dan Birch, a director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which is the entity in charge of Stagecoach Reservoir and hosts the state park, said development around the reservoir and the park may cause some challenges, but nothing that can't be overcome.
A high-density population living in the area could impact the water quality, Birch said.
The current wastewater facility owned by the Morrison Creek discharges directly into the reservoir. More people using the district would mean more treated water flowing into the reservoir, Birch said. There also will be run-off from a community's streets and construction sites that will likely find its way into the reservoir.
Another issue Birch said he could foresee was the water level of the reservoir.
"People get upset when it's drained down," Birch said. "But that's what it is there for."
The water in the reservoir is essentially owned by a number of people down stream. If they need the water, the reservoir would be drained.
"Our first obligation is to the people with the (water) allotments," Birch said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206
or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com.

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