Snowmobile access debated

Residents concerned about private trail being used

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— Routt County Commissioners know Steamboat Lake Outfitters is unable to control snowmobilers who use a private trail that runs through residential property, but they are not ready to take steps to regulate the problem.

Before the three-member panel will consider placing more stringent regulations on the half-mile trail owned by the company, two commissioners felt more information was needed.

Commissioners Doug Monger and Dan Ellison want more time to gather information before making a decision on a petition submitted by neighboring residents of the business just south of Hahn's Peak Village.

"I would like to visit the site," Ellison said.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak disagreed and was ready to vote in favor of the request submitted by four neighboring residents.

Robert and Doris Newton, Mike Weber, Patti Bobonich and Tom and Mary Corbett are requesting the county commissioners limit the company's use of the trail only to snowmobilers that have paid for one of the company's guided tours.

The trail runs through each resident's property line. The concern these residents have is they contend Steamboat Lake Outfitters is not controlling who uses the trail to access Forest Service Road 409.

As a condition of their county permit that was issued in 1999, the company is allowed to let unguided snowmobilers use the trail. For snowmobilers to use the trail, they must rent a machine from the business or be staying at a guest ranch.

All of the neighbors said Tuesday the public is using the trail to access the Columbine area, and Steamboat Lake Outfitters is not doing anything about it.

"This easement is being used by everyone," said Sandy Horner, an attorney who represents the Webers. "Not just customers of SLO. Lots of locals are using it."

Neighbors are concerned about the speed these unguided snowmobilers are traveling on the trail. The speed limit posted is 15 mph, but Corbett said machines are reaching speeds of more than 50 mph.

"The neighborhood is a special place and still is in a diminished way," Corbett said.

Neighbors are also concerned with vehicles parking in the area. They said snowmobilers are parking their vehicles there and then accessing the forest through the private trail.

"Anybody can drive up, take their sleds off and go right through it," Corbett said.

Bobonich said she recently had her property appraised and it has devalued because of this issue.

Horner said the only way to stop this problem is to take away the business' ability to allow unguided snowmobilers use the trail.

"It will eliminate the excessive speed," Horner said. "It will eliminate the parking problem. It would reduce the liability for neighbors because a guide will always be taking snowmobilers through the easement.

"If you reduce these problems, you reduce complaints. If you reduce complaints, you reduce your staff time."

During the hearing, Planning Director Caryn Fox said her department has been unable to determine if Steamboat Lake Outfitters is complying with the condition.

Gary Engle, an attorney representing the business, said neighbors knew this trail existed when they bought their property.

"I'm sorry (Bobonich's) property didn't appraise as she wanted," Engle said. "But she knew the easement was there."

Engle said there has been a long history of snowmobilers using the trail because it provides access to the Columbine area much more quickly.

"If they can't use the easement, they have to go 15 miles to get to the Columbine area," he said.

Engle downplayed the neighbors' concerns and complaints. He said the problems are "miniscule" and could be addressed with better signage and education.

"This is unfortunately a neighborhood feud that has been brought out in a public forum," Engle said. "SLO doesn't deserve this. They are doing a good job."

Stahoviak disagreed.

"We have a situation that is not working," Stahoviak said. "There is a use of this easement that was not intended. This is not a public easement. This is a private easement. There is public abuse that is not going to go away."

Stahoviak is in favor of allowing the outfitting company to use the easement for guided tours only.

The issue was brought to the attention of the county commissioners because the Routt County Planning Commission renewed Steamboat Lake Outfitters' permit last December.

Although planning commissioners were concerned of the trail being used by the public, they unanimously renewed the permit.

"Planning Commission did not bite the bullet and do something about this," Stahoviak said. "We could add 50 more conditions to the permit and it wouldn't help. The public needs to understand this is a private easement. Not everyone is allowed on it."

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