Snowmobiles had been a common sight on county roads that wind through the Willow Creek Pass subdivision until officials realized state law prohibited snowmobiling on county roadways. Incidents of harassment and threats have been cited because of the snowmobile issue.

Photo by Brian Ray

Snowmobiles had been a common sight on county roads that wind through the Willow Creek Pass subdivision until officials realized state law prohibited snowmobiling on county roadways. Incidents of harassment and threats have been cited because of the snowmobile issue.

A neighborhood divided

North Routt subdivision split on snowmobile use

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— For more than 30 years, snowmobiles had been a common sight on the county roads that wind through the Willow Creek Pass subdivision. That changed last November, when officials realized state law prohibited snowmobiling on county roadways.

Not everyone in the North Routt County neighborhood was happy with the change, and residents say the result has been ongoing conflict between snowmobile advocates and detractors. Last week, those advocates appealed to the Routt County Board of Commissioners for help. They didn't get the answer some had hoped for.

The Willow Creek Pass subdivision was established in 1972, just an uphill climb on Routt County Road 129 from Steamboat Lake. Snowmobiles were all but a necessity then because the county didn't plow roads in the area.

In recent years, snowmobiles in the subdivision have taken on primarily a recreational use. With public lands less than a mile away, many residents could walk out their doors, hop on their sleds and enjoy the quick ride to an extensive area of rideable terrain. Some residents say the proximity to such terrain is the reason they moved to Willow Creek Pass.

"Snowmobiling has a long history of use within this neighborhood, and the homeowners association has historically taken responsibility to govern and control this use," said Jeff Dillingham, who bought a home in the subdivision four years ago.

As the subdivision grew, so did the number of complaints about trespassing, noise and inappropriate behavior by snowmobilers.

In 2000, there were 85 homes built or permitted for construction in Willow Creek. Today, there are 153.

Snowmobile complaints increased when the density approached 100 homes, and HOA president Lanny Mack thinks the complaints will continue to increase as the subdivision is built out with more than 450 homes.

"More homes mean more snowmobilers, more traffic and more conflicts and problems," Mack said.

Snowmobile use has become a divisive issue in the subdivision, pitting pro-snowmobile homeowners against those who see snowmobiles as a hazard detracting from their quality of life.

In a letter to Routt County Commissioners, Mack, who has served as the HOA president for six years and is against snowmobile use in the subdivision, wrote there have been incidents of threats and harassment.

"This harassment has included midnight visits from half dozen snowmobilers, groups of snowmobilers riding around their house and even snowmobiles riding on their roof," Mack stated.

On Thursday, Mack said those are isolated incidents.

"Some people get frustrated and resort to that," Mack said. "That's not reflective of the community at all. You just have a couple people that are very passionate."

In November 2007, it was discovered that snowmobile use on county roads had never been lawful. Prior to that, Mack said the HOA was relying on what proved to be bad information from the Routt County Sheriff's Office, which had told them the law enforcement agency had no control over snowmobile use on the roads.

In 2005, homeowners elected not to prohibit snowmobile use in the neighborhood, said Dillingham, an avid snowmobiler who is one of several homeowners spearheading the effort to allow snow machining.

After the 2005 HOA meeting, a snowmobile committee was formed to help educate and enforce rules for snowmobile use in the neighborhood.

"During the winter of 2005-06, this committee was extremely successful in controlling reasonable snowmobile use within the neighborhood," Dillingham said. "It was the difference between night and day."

Last year, the homeowners association requested signs from the Routt County Road and Bridge Department to help communicate snowmobile rules. In November, Road and Bridge officials told them the only signs they could provide were ones stating that snowmobiles are not allowed on county roads, per state statute.

On Tuesday, advocates for snowmobiling in Willow Creek made their case to Routt County Commissioners, who have the power to allow snowmobiling on county roads. The meeting was meant to discuss the issue, and no formal vote was taken.

"We're just trying to go forward with the issue and see if we can get some of our snowmobiling rights," Dillingham said.

Neighbors on both sides of the issue filled the commissioners meeting room.

Gary Spinuzzi, of Pueblo, has a second home in Willow Creek. He said that when he purchased his home in April, being able to snowmobile in the subdivision to access public lands was a big factor in his decision.

"The problems are way overstated," Spinuzzi said. "If you took a census up there, we all have 3.2 snowmobiles per household."

Dillingham presented a petition that indicated 93 of the 153 homeowners had signed in support of snowmobiling on subdivision roads.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said a majority of homeowners was not enough for her to permit the use snowmobiles in the subdivision.

"I believe that if we have a residential neighborhood where there is not consensus among everyone. : I, as a commissioner, am not going to force it on the neighborhood," said Stahoviak, citing safety issues and the county's historical stance against allowing snowmobiles on county roads. "Unless the Willow Creek subdivision can come together as a group and create a proposal that everyone accepts, there is no way I can move forward with allowing snowmobiles on the road."

Commissioners Doug Monger and Diane Mitsch Bush echoed Stahoviak's opinion.

"We have been championed to try to help (with) safety and welfare, and we don't believe that is in the best interest of that," Monger said. "There is the potential for the HOA to come up with some compromise plan."

Despite the strong initial opposition from commissioners, Dillingham said snowmobile advocates won't give up.

"It looks like we are going to chase this process down and fight this battle," he said.

Comments

id04sp 6 years, 3 months ago

If the County is finally going to regulate the use of the roads in that subdivision, then they also need to start plowing the roads and maintaining them instead of taxing the property owners for a service that is not provided by the County.

The RCSO did, indeed, refuse to answer complaints regarding incidents on the roads in the past. To the RCSO, anything that happened was, "a civil matter." At the same time, the County required the HOA to plow the roads wide enough to allow emergency vehicles to get in and out, but did not provide any funding for the plowing, or have it done with County plows.

There are other places in North Routt where the County plows a mile of road just for the benefit of one or two homes. So why not plow in Willow Creek Pass for the benefit of 153 homes?

The HOA in that subdivision has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to build all-weather roads since Mr. Mack took over as president of the HOA. He and members of his family own more than 90 vacant lots in the subdivision (based upon County Assessor records for tax area 17 as of this morning), and are set up to make, literally, millions of dollars in profits resulting from the road improvements. The County is going to reap a tax windfall from the development of Willow Creek Pass, and it's about time the Commissioners started providing the same services and protection to the residents that other people in Routt County currently enjoy.

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id04sp 6 years, 3 months ago

tobstl,

The roads in Willow Creek Pass Village are not paved, and they are plowed as well. The stretch of CR-129 from Clark to Willow Creek Pass has some steep stretches (a mile or more) that can be treacherous even after being paved and plowed, however. Back "in the day" before CR-129 was paved, snowmobiles were the only safe and reliable way to get around at times.

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 3 months ago

More people, more opinions, more problems.

Sounds like Mr. Mack needs to step up to the podium. Mr. Mack? Mr. Mack?

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trump_suit 6 years, 3 months ago

How is it that snowmobiles are legal on 129, but not within the Willow Creek subdivison? There seems to be a disconnect from the county on this issue.

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roadhard 6 years, 3 months ago

the commissioners, from clark to columbine and on the north end of cr #62 from the old state park office through captain's cove..

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 3 months ago

Hmm I didn't know that. Is snowmobile traffic pretty common on that stretch?

I see your point then.

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id04sp 6 years, 3 months ago

CR-129 was not paved past Clark until sometime around 1992 or 1993. It made sense to let snowmobiles operate on the road when it was not paved and could not be plowed clear. Maybe the commissioners just need to get up to date on their regulations.

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tobstl 6 years, 3 months ago

Who says you can't plow a non paved road?? Take a ride to south Routt and see how many gravel roads are plowed and safe!

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corduroy 6 years, 3 months ago

I can see the snowmobilers wanting to just drive up the road on the snowmobile to the trails if its that close. They do it on CR 16 in Stagecoach all the time. I say if you are single file and obeying traffic laws, fine, I don't personally have a problem with it, nevermind it being against state law

It's when snowmobilers trespass or annoy others that they get a bad name for themselves, and people get very defensive.

So if snowmobiling on county roads is illegal, there's no issue, right? Pull them over and give them a ticket.. that's the LAW

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buck 6 years, 3 months ago

My wife and I were looking at a Willow Creek Pass house that was for sale in 1995. A snowmobiler raced up the road and through the property we were looking at. That was it for us - we were no longer interested in Willow Creek Pass. Snowmobilers in that area are not just going from their home to a trailhead - they joyride through the subdivision.

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trump_suit 6 years, 3 months ago

Big difference between 2007 and 1995. I have not seen any evidence of abuse in the last several years. The VAST majority of riders are using the public roads to access pubilic trails. For the record, I do not own a sled. There will always be a few that cause problems but as long as the snowmobiles are legal on 129, I cannot find any logic in banning them from the neighborhood roads.

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Wendy Powell 6 years, 3 months ago

We all live in a beautiful place. We respect one another. We like our independence. Let's come together as a neighborhood and get the other neighborhoods to do so too -- submit a proposal to the county as part of our Upper Elk Management Plan for the jurisdiction, enforcement and education of recreation in north Routt.

Shouldn't county roads have some sort of plan for public transportation, paid for and provided by the county? Homeowners pay for the plowing here in Willow Creek Pass, and it sure seems like these are private roads. The route from my house is more often like driving on a snowmobile trail than it is a "road" this time of year! Last fall's county road bill defeated--no way we are getting more services, we are lucky they still do a good job on 129.

What are some alternatives? Trailer? Which venue should the 90+ homeowners use, the pit at Columbine or the State Park? Are either of those solutions viable and acceptable to all? Should the HOA make a parking/snowshed along the county road using HOA owned property, talk to Steamboat Lake about letting snow machines or trailers park there in a compound area, for a fee if necessary, like you can do with your boat? Expand public access on NF with a large lot beyond the Columbine community? What about all those snowmobilers crossing 129 or 62 out of the park to get to the forest, is the county ready for that with the population growth we're seeing? Columbine doesn't need another slough of trucks and trailers stopping up their road. Let's think this through for the immediate future as well as outyear.

Do we want to invite law enforcement into our neighborhood to regulate how we play? Should majority rule, or the minority rule when it is the "right" thing? Does 129 need to change? Do we figure out a way for this to evolve without division amongst ourselves?

It is really nice to ride snowmobiles and ATV's in the neighborhood.

As an HOA, we have real issues: Governance of our board-- Dogs chasing wildlife--Noxious weeds along the roads--Trees poised to fall any minute--Hazardous fire fuels building up all around us.

At the end of the day...let's remember that we live in a beautiful place and most of us work really hard to do so.

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id04sp 6 years, 3 months ago

Villager,

One of the reasons you work so hard is to pay for the roads which have been developed over the past few years at your expense so that people who own large numbers of vacant lots can make a buck speculating in real estate. Yes, the vacant lot owners do pay a portion of the cost of "maintenance" (if you want to buy the story that placing road base over 11 miles of roadway is "maintenance" rather than "construction"). However, homeowners pay TEN TIMES more for exactly the same benefit. The state law says that the cost of construction which benefits a parcel of property should be paid by the owner of that property. The road in front of the vacant lot next door cost exactly the same to build as the road in front of your house, so why doesn't the HOA raise dues for vacant lots and lower them for homeowners?

It is a fact that people in a position to have inside information regarding overdue accounts, etc., have been extraordinarily successful at buying up adjacent vacant properties on the west side of CR-129. The scores of truckloads of gravel and road base which have been hauled in to improve access from CR-129 up through Beaver Canyon, Longfellow, Pueblo, etc., have vastly increased the value of the vacant lots up on that side of the subdivision. If you sum up the cost of doing all that work over the past few years, and look to see where the money to pay for it came from, it should be very clear that the homeowners who pay $500 a year in "dues" are paying a disproportionate and unfair portion of the cost of the improvements (not all of it, but most of it).

There were originally 1000 or so lots in the subdivision. Around 150 of them now have houses. Simple math tells you that 15% of the lots in the subdivision are paying around $60,000 to $75,000 a year while the other 85% "vacant" lots are paying approximately $42,500 a year.

Look at it another way. Say you own 90 vacant lots and pay $50 a year for each of them, that's $4,500. 90 individual homeowners pay at least $36,000 up to $45,000 for the same year. When the HOA is spending money out of the general treasury to buy gravel, road base, and have it placed and graded on the roads, isn't it clear that the people with houses are getting ripped off to pay for roads that serve vacant lots?

Obviously it's true that people who use the roads every day should pay more for "maintenance," and that's only fair. However, "maintenance" means fixing a pot hole or grading the roads that take the daily wear and tear from traffic. Why should the homeowners also be footing the bill up on Pueblo Drive where there's only one or maybe two houses in a mile of road, and all the rest are vacant lots? Look to see who owns them, and the answer will be clear.

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