Commissioners rule against SLO

Unguided snowmobilers banned from using private trail in North Routt

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— Snowmobilers will no longer be able to use a private trail to access the Columbine area unless they are escorted by a Steamboat Lake Outfitters' guide.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Routt County Board of Commissioners banned the North Routt County company from letting unguided snowmobilers use the trail because of complaints aired by neighboring residents.

Along with the guides escorting snowmobilers, Steamboat Lake Outfitters also has to put up signs and install gates at the entrances of the mile-long trail that meanders through neighboring properties.

Although the board put in these restrictions, the commissioners did not specifically order how the company has to comply.

"My goal is not to micromanage this property," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "They need to figure it out."

Residents were happy with the board's decision for the widely used trail that connects Steamboat Lake Outfitters' property with Forest Service Road 409.

"This trail will still be open to the public, but it will be controlled," said Tom Corbett, who was among a group of residents that asked the commissioners to address the issue. "If they have someone guide them through the easement, it will be excellent."

Sandy Horner, a lawyer who represents some of the neighbors, was satisfied with the commissioners' ruling but said the key to the issue is the company must comply with the board's action.

"This is a good step in the right direction," Horner said. "We will now see if the new requirements are complied with."

While neighbors were thrilled with the commissioners' decision, Steamboat Lake Outfitters' attorney called the board's requirements "unrealistic" and said his clients fell victim to a neighborhood feud.

"My clients want to get along with their neighbors," Gary Engle said. "We want to work this out so everyone can coexist in a reasonable fashion.

"These conditions will be difficult to comply with, but my clients will do their best."

Corbett and neighbors Robert and Doris Newton, Mike Weber and Patti Bobonich sought to limit the company's use of the trail because they contend the trail was being used by the public.

The neighbors also claimed public use created a parking problem for the neighborhood. They also expressed concern a majority of the unguided snowmobilers exceed the trail's 15 mph speed limit.

The residents asked the commissioners to examine the issue after the Routt County Planning Commission renewed the company's permit in December without addressing their concerns.

After hearing testimony during a Feb. 12 hearing, county commissioners said they had no choice but to ban unguided tours.

"We can't monitor unguided tours without adding more conditions to the permit," Stahoviak said. "We don't have planning staff available to address every complaint."

Stahoviak pointed to the county's regulations to make her point clear to Commissioners Dan Ellison and Doug Monger.

She said land use must be compatible with its surroundings.

"There is no doubt the neighbors are being impacted by the use of this easement that can be tracked to unguided tours," she said. "I honestly believe the use of the easement by unguided tours will continue to impact the neighbors."

Since 1999, Steamboat Lake Outfitters has been able to use the easement for snowmobilers who purchase a guided tour, rent a snowmobile or are a guest.

With the commissioners' action, Engle said it will be difficult for his clients to escort snowmobilers across the easement and they are worried about the hazard the gate creates.

"The gate is going to be difficult because there is not a fence," he said. "People can go around the gates."

The work force that will be needed to escort snowmobilers across the easement will also be a burden for the company, he said.

Engle said the residents who complained about his clients knew of the easement's long history of use and are seeking revenge because of a lawsuit the company won. A judge ruled Steamboat Lake Outfitters has the right to use the private easement for its operations.

"This is a world-class company," Engle said. "The owners are world class. They are being unfairly victimized by a group of locals who all moved into the area knowing the easement was there."

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