Open space a cherished commodity

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— There is something to be said about wide-open spaces in the wintertime, but very few words can actually do it justice.

However, skiing or snowshoeing on Elk Run Trail at Stagecoach State Park can convince anyone that open space really is a cherished commodity in Routt County.

"There is a beauty to the openness," said Fred Bohlmann, Stagecoach State Park manager. "It's the whole big sky feeling."

One of the most unique aspects of Stagecoach is its open spaces surrounded by sheer peaks and conifer-covered mountains.

Though many people in the county may not know it, Bohlmann and his staff groom 3.5 miles of the Elk Run Trail at least three times a week and always on Friday for cross country skiing or snowshoeing. The practice happened for three years, but this is the second winter the grooming has been going on so consistently.

The most common route for the skier who doesn't know about the grooming is to start in the state park parking lot right off County Road 16, then do the 3.5 miles along the southern shores of Stagecoach Reservoir to Morrison Cove.

The route is perfect for beginners and those who want to take a leisurely ski or snowshoe with the dogs (on leashes, according to state law). The trail stays flat nearly the entire way, with a few small hills to go up and down.

Bohlmann said from Morrison Cove sometimes a trail is groomed onto the ice of the reservoir to create loop back to the parking lot. However, people that always practice probably won't continue past February because of the danger of melting ice.

But people also can remain on the ungroomed portion of the trail, continuing to trace around the reservoir's shores, through a stand of conifer trees to the dam and then out C.R. 18. From the C.R. 16 parking lot to the dam is a five-mile ski or hike.

Use of the trail has increased this year, Bohlmann said, to at most a dozen people a day on the weekdays and a little more on the weekend.

"It's demonstrating that it's getting used, but it doesn't detract from the trail," Bohlmann said.

The fact is, many times people have the trail to themselves, but occasionally there may be one or two people there.

But as use increases, Bohlmann said the chances of more groomed area and more trails increases, too. Right now, the 3.5 miles of trail is groomed with a "custom" groomer dragged by a snowmobile.

But if more people use the trail, it will justify buying a manufactured groomer, which would make it possible to groom more trail, including a larger loop back to the C.R. 16 parking lot.

Also, the state park's long-term plan shows an extension of trail throughout the park, which in the wintertime means more places to ski and snowshoe.

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