City closes on Lafarge's North Pit

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The city of Steamboat Springs and Colorado Division of Wildlife closed on a land deal this week that will allow waterfowl hunting and fishing on a 101-acre parcel south of town.

After nine years of work by multiple government agencies and private businesses, the city has become the official owner of the former Lafarge North Pit gravel mine, which will be managed by the DOW.

The city will hold the title to the land, which is a reclaimed gravel pit, but did not fund any of the $896,000 purchase price. The majority of the money is coming from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, with $363,000 coming from the Yampa River Legacy Project and $200,000 from an open space grant. The DOW contributed $298,000, and the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program added $35,000. The city contributed more than $30,000 worth of in-kind work, mostly with legal services.

"We are just thrilled to have accomplished this," city Director of Intergovernmental Services Linda Kakela said. "It is a model for the state and certainly a model for Northwest Colorado."

The land sits south of Steamboat between River Road and Colorado Highway 131 and is next to the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area. DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the newly purchased land will become part of the Chuck Lewis area, which came under DOW management five years ago, and would be used in a similar fashion.

The land will not be accessible to the public until spring, giving the DOW time to put up signs and create a parking area off River Road.

The 101-acre site has a 40-acre lake and 17 acres of wetlands with prime waterfowl habitat. Hampton said the land will have the same regulations as the Chuck Lewis area, allowing waterfowl hunting and fishing, but no dogs, except hunting and seeing-eye dogs. It also would allow fires, camping, overnight parking, big or small game hunting, horses and bikes.

In a statement being prepared by the DOW, area wildlife manager Susan Werner said that as urban fishing places decrease, this would be an alternative fishing spot.

"As Steamboat grows, this is a place where people can walk to and fish," she said.

The concept for using the reclaimed land originated in the early 1990s, Hampton said, with the advent of the Yampa River Legacy Project, which was a vision to protect the river in Routt and Moffat counties.

The site has been a gravel mine since the 1960s, and Lafarge purchased it in 1998, the same year the city acquired an option to purchase the property when it sold. In a statement being prepared by the DOW, Gary Tuttle of Lafarge's real estate division said that because the land is upstream from the Chuck Lewis Wildlife area, allowing it to be used for open space and recreation seemed like the right thing to do.

"The land is so spectacular, now people looking on the property won't know there was a gravel pit," Tuttle said.

Company officials agreed to sell the property for $204,00 less than the appraised value, and the purchase of the land ensures future development will not occur on it.

"The residents of Colorado are the big winners," Hampton said.

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