Planners approve linking trail

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The Routt County Planning Commission approved a temporary snowmobile and skiing trail linking state park and Routt National Forest land in North Routt County, pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Approval for the trail from the Fish and Wildlife Service could take as little as a week, or it could take months or years, said Kim Vogel, district ranger for Routt National Forest.

It's possible that by the time the service approves the trail, the date the temporary trail must close -- March 31 -- already will have passed.

The temporary trail would let winter recreationalists, particularly snowmobilers, access more national forest land in North Routt County from Steamboat Lake State Park.

Routt County Planning Commissioner Donna Hellyer voted against the trail. She said that though she thought a linking trail was needed, she thought the proposed temporary trail would be a waste of taxpayer money and that a better option would be to create a trail along Hahn's Peak Village on property already owned by Colorado State Parks.

The rest of the commission approved the temporary trail at its Thursday night meeting.

Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Ken Brink told planning commissioners that an important step toward preventing those problems is to make a linking trail.

The State Park will patrol and monitor use of the trail and also will mark the trail with signs.

Edna Quealy and Alice Shaffer offered free access this winter for a linking trail open to all winter users that go through their property, which sits between national forest land and Routt County Road 129.

Because the trail would require grooming a new section of the national forest, the Fish and Wildlife Service has to determine if it would affect wildlife in the area.

One concern, Vogel said, is that more compact snow would take away a competitive edge that lynx have over other animals in finding food sources, because the other animals could travel on the groomed path.

Vogel said that while Routt National Forest supports a link to the state park, it could not support this particular trail until the Fish and Wildlife Service came back with an answer.

She also said she would prefer the original trail on state park land to which Hellyer referred.

That land was purchased in early 2002 from Doug Button to create a multi-use trail from the state park to the national forest that bordered the west edge of Hahn's Peak Village. Nonmotorized summer use was approved on the trail, but after complaints from residents of the village about potential noise and other disturbances from the snowmobiles, the state park looked for alternative access.

When Routt County commissioners approved the summer trail, they said they would not support motorized winter uses on the trail because of the trail's proximity to existing homes.

Button attended the hearing Thursday night to tell commissioners that he was against the new proposed trail and that he couldn't understand why the state park didn't stick with building the trail on the land it bought from him.

"I guess I'm confused. Absolutely flabbergasted," Button said, adding that the new temporary trail marked "years of work down the tubes."

The trail bordering the village, he said, was hidden, short and safe.

All planning commissioners except Hellyer said the trail was needed and that they wanted to approve the option that seemed quickest to get something in place for this winter.

"I'm not sure if this is the right plan, but it's the right now plan," said Routt County Planning Commissioner Terry Hunter.

In other business:

n Planning commissioners recommended for approval a request from Xcel Energy and the Hayden Station Power Plant to haul up to 1.8 million tons of coal a year by truck on Routt County Road 27.

Planning commissioners commended representatives of the Hayden Station for making efforts to talk with all neighbors and affected parties and to carefully study the safety and maintenance aspects of the project.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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