Whether a section of the Yampa River should be realigned to slow its flow through a proposed city park -- and whether the city will really listen to residents' input on its design -- were the foremost questions asked by people attending a Thursday meeting on the Bear River parcel.
With a $16,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and $26,000 from the city, a master plan is being created for 18 acres west of town where three old sewer lagoons stand.
Mike Campbell, a consultant with Mountain West Design Group, presented two plans to the two dozen residents who came to Thursday's meeting.
Under one plan, the city would realign the river, creating a meander to slow its flow through the park. The proposed curve in the river, which would return it to the course the river followed 50 years ago, would eat up about 9.5 acres and take away what some see as valuable and rare wetlands.
Along with curving the river, the plan includes a 19,000-square-foot skate park, a Frisbee golf area, river access and a parking area with about 35 spaces.
The other plan would leave the Yampa River unchanged, with a 6.15-acre undisturbed riparian wildlife area, a useable open space area about the size of a youth soccer field, a 15,000-square-foot skate park, a river access and a parking area with about 35 spaces.
Campbell said that although realigning the river could limit the park's potential uses, Frisbee golf and other uses could be considered if the river is unchanged.
Most residents, such as Randy Kelley, were more concerned about the environmental impacts of realignment. In a show of hands, about 65 percent of the residents preferred to keep the river unchanged.
Kelley expressed concerns about the amount of wetlands a river realignment would disturb and wondered whether the change would have much effect if more realignments were not done farther downstream. Between Hayden and Steamboat, wetland areas are rare along the Yampa River, Kelley said, and serve the important purpose of filtering out pollution.
"(The realignment) means the loss of really viable wetlands. Once you lose the wetlands, it is gone. You can't replace it," he said.
City Parks, Open Space and Recreation Director Chris Wilson said studies have recommended reshaping the river so it meanders through the Bear River parcel. The studies indicated that even if more realignment were not done downstream, the change would be beneficial.
In a show of hands, a skate park was the most popular use for the parcel. A useable open space area, playground and soft trails also received strong support.
Questions were raised about the need for a Frisbee golf course. With two already in Steamboat, resident Kent Vertrees suggested the city only place a Frisbee golf course on the land if it met national standards and could be used to bring people in for Frisbee golf tournaments.
Meeting attendee Nancy Cameron wanted to know how much weight residents' input at the meetings would have once the plan goes before the council.
"Am I going to spend a lot of time learning about this, only to find out the city wants to (do something else)," she asked.
Wilson said her question was a valid one. Although residents have been clear about not wanting any organized ball fields on the land, Wilson said, the Bear River parcel was one of five sites included in a proposal to Triple Crown for more playing fields. The city and Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association are scheduled to meet with Triple Crown founder Dave King about that proposal.
The city has until the end of the year to come up with a master plan for the Bear River parcel, but how the park is built and how construction is phased could take years to decide, Wilson said, and largely could depend on funding.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will review the master plan Dec. 10. The commission's recommendation will then be passed on to the council.
"I can't guarantee you they are going to say thank you very much, we are going to do this," Wilson said. But she said the council typically supports recommendations that come from the bottom up.
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