Commission reviews North Routt rec plan

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The Routt County Planning Commission on Thursday night put the finishing touches on the draft of an update to North Routt's recreation plan.

Since January 2004, the county has been working to update the Recreational Uses and Public Lands chapter of the Upper Elk River Valley Community Plan.

The plan's update was spur--red by the increase in recreation use in the Hahn's Peak and Steamboat Lake State Park areas, particularly by snowmobilers.

Thursday night's gathering was the ninth meeting about the update, and few public comments were made. Planning commissioners made no major changes to the version of the plan that they were presented, but they agreed to hold off on adopting the changes until they had a printed version of the plan. The commission tabled approval of the plan to its Aug. 4 meeting.

Among the policies recommended in the update are dispersed trailheads and access to recreation areas to relieve congestion and negative effects on residents in the area.

The update also suggests that new, permitted recreational businesses, such as snowmobile tour companies, should not be located near residential neighborhoods in the North Routt area.

Commission members discussed how far the buffer zones should extend before deciding that they should not determine a specific distance. Commission members also said buffer zones should apply only to new, permitted uses and that historic and county-approved trails and uses should be grandfathered into the plan.

Planning Commissioner Way--ne Adamo also recommended that the plan include an action item to implement the parking plan that already has been established.

"If I was out in the community, I would be frustrated," Adamo said. "Somewhere in here, we need to make a statement (that) we will start the process to implement the plan."

Commission members also agreed they should encourage U.S. Forest Service and Steamboat Lake State Park officials to seek input from the community, and they said they would help coordinate those meetings. The Forest Service was supposed to do a parallel update for its winter recreation management plan in North Routt but canceled those plans because of a lack of funding.

In its report to the Planning Commission, planning staff noted that the biggest issue raised during their meetings was motorized- versus nonmotorized-use areas and trails in the Hahn's Peak and Steamboat Lake State Park area, which county officials said must be addressed by the Forest Service.

County officials said they would focus on the effects to private property and development, such as preservation of rural character, effects on the county road network, public parking areas and protection of residential neighborhoods.

As part of the discussion, Adamo suggested that the county re-examine opening the Steamboat Lake Outfitters trail to its original use. A few years ago, the county set limits on who could use the easement connecting SLO to the national forest and when they could use it. With the conditions, SLO had to follow limits governing when snowmobilers could use the trail, how many snowmobilers could use the trail and that snowmobilers must be with a guide. Snowmobile use also was restricted to SLO cabin guests.

Before those limits were enacted, area residents were concerned about the number of people using the easement on SLO tours and trespassing to access public land.

A new link trail behind Hahn's Peak was set up between national forest land and Steamboat Lake State Park. The Quealy Trail has lessened traffic on the SLO easement, and Adamo asked whether it could be opened again to allow snowmobilers to go to SLO for services as opposed to coming back on the Quealy Trail.

Planner Chad Phillips said the new Quealy Trail reduced traffic on the SLO easement except during the early and late seasons, when snowpack was down. He said the amount of complaints have decreased by 80 percent to 90 percent from what the county received five years ago.

Other planning commissioners rejected Adamo's proposal.

"I think we do nothing but create major problems if we open up the SLO piece," Planning Commissioner Fred Nichols said.

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