A temporary snowmobile trail to access the National Forest from Steamboat Lake State Park is now open, and officials are in negotiations to make the trail permanent.
Between 15 and 30 people have used the trail each day since it unofficially opened about a week ago, said Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Ken Brink.
"We've had a lot of people come in the visitor's center and just really thank the park for getting it together," Brink said. "It's nice to see a legal way for people to enjoy the Forest and the Park."
The connector trail comes at a time when the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Parks and Routt County are working together to examine and plan for winter recreation use in the area.
The trail is approved through March, but state officials are working to buy the 160-acre parcel the trail crosses, eventually making the motorized-use trail permanent, said Beverly Rave, district manager for the State Land Board.
"I think everybody was delighted with the end result, and I think the important thing now is to keep working to make it permanent," Rave said. "I think it's certainly a good solution to what otherwise could have been very controversial."
The property could be acquired for the State Park's land trust through funds from replacement lands, Rave said. The cost of the property cannot be released because negotiations are ongoing.
Approval of the temporary trail was possible because of work from Colorado State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, the State Land Board, residents and winter recreationalists, local and state government officials, the Quealy family -- who allowed the temporary trail to run across their property at no cost -- and others, Brink said. Many of those players were present at an official opening ceremony Saturday morning.
The trail approval has met some roadblocks, including delays because of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's concerns that more compact snow would harm lynx by making them less competitive for food sources. Before the trail is made permanent, officials want to get final approval from the U.S. Forest Service and from Routt County, Brink said.
The connector trail will help mitigate parking and trespassing problems, Brink said, and keep pressure off popular parking and riding areas.
"I think a more functional trail system is going to disperse that use a lot better and make the whole North Routt area seem a lot less crowded," he said.
Winter use in the area will continue to grow, he said, leaving officials and residents the choice of working to manage it or sitting back and letting it happen in a disorganized way.
The trail is about 1.5 miles, starting at the Marina parking lot and traveling around the lake on a groomed trail. It crosses Routt County Road 129 near the state park visitor's center, goes across Bureau of Land Management land, heads north across the Quealy property and turns right into the National Forest on Forest Service Road 410.
People seem to be staying on the trail and obeying speed limits, Brink said.
North Routt resident Doug Button, who recently sold Steamboat Lake State Park a thin piece of land along Hahn's Peak Village for accessing National Forest, said he thought buying land for another trail would be a waste of government money and that the connector trail would be dangerous.
Hahn's Peak resident Shirley Stocks, whose home is 120 feet from the trail bordering the village, said she thought the temporary connector trail is a great compromise.