Visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec/ for more information about the Columbine Access Project. You also can tune in to Steamboat Today, on Steamboat tv18, at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday for an appearance by U.S. Forest Service recreation specialist Kent Foster.
Steamboat Springs Routt County residents and others have one more week to have their voices heard on the Columbine Access Project, which will dictate how snowmobiles access U.S. Forest Service lands in North Routt County.
The issue is about the only thing that comes close to political controversy in the vast and remote region that stretches from the Elk River Valley to the Wyoming border. In the latest iteration of the debate, snowmobiling and non-motorized interest groups are rallying their troops and submitting competing proposals in an effort to access or protect their favorite areas of the backcountry.
The goal of the Columbine Access Project, U.S. Forest Service recreation specialist Kent Foster said, is to maintain snowmobile access from Steamboat Lake State Park to federal forest lands to the north and also to improve a troubling parking situation at the intersection of Routt County Road 129 and Forest Service Road 550 in Columbine.
"There's not enough parking, and we end up getting people parking illegally" on the side of C.R. 129, Foster said.
The Forest Service also hopes to create a new route for snowmobiles traveling between the parking lot and Steamboat Lake. Currently, snowmobilers use a groomed route along F.S.R. 490, which crosses private property along a Forest Service easement, until it connects with C.R. 129 south of Columbine. They then follow that road north to the parking lot. Both the parking lot and the route have proved annoying to some people who live in the residential area of Columbine.
"It's just a mess," said Leslie Lovejoy, a Columbine resident and director of Friends of the Routt Backcountry. "It's just become quite a big problem."
Foster said private property owners along F.S.R. 490 want to have the road plowed to allow vehicular access to their properties.
"That and a groomed snowmobile trail don't do to well with each other," Foster said. "We're looking to maintain the access from Steamboat Lake to the forest without using that route."
To fix the parking problem, the Forest Service has proposed building a new 2- to 3-acre parking lot 1.5 miles northeast of Columbine on F.S.R. 550. To fix the route problem, it has suggested a new groomed trail east of Columbine that would travel north through an area known as Columbine Meadows. The Forest Service also proposes a new route south of Columbine that would travel west and provide snowmobile access to an area known as Trilby Flats. Columbine Meadows and Trilby Flats are favorite spots for backcountry skiers and other non-motorized users of the forest.
Trilby Flats debate
The Friends of the Routt Backcountry and the Routt Powder Riders snowmobile club have submitted competing proposals. Foster acknowledged that the trail through Columbine Meadows, a suggested non-motorized area, could create new problems if snowmobilers decide to go off the trail.
"By putting a snowmobile trail through there, we may be inviting people to go into that area, whereas right now they stay out of it," Foster said.
George Kustiuk, vice president of Routt Powder Riders, said the club wants to cause as little disruption as possible to other users. The club's proposal eliminates the route through Columbine Meadows. Instead, it uses the Forest Service's proposed route to Trilby Flats and then travels north along C.R. 129.
"Our proposal just moves the route over to the west and back up 129 to where it was before," Kustiuk said.
Routt Powder Riders also proposes that a new parking lot be built at Trilby Flats, rather than north of Columbine.
"We don't really agree with the (proposed) parking lot," Kustiuk said. "If there's a problem with (the existing) parking lot, we'd rather have it south of Columbine."
The Friends of the Routt Backcountry proposal eliminates all snowmobile routes near Columbine and along C.R. 129 north of Steamboat Lake. It also wouldn't allow trailer parking at the existing parking lot. Instead, snowmobilers would park at Steamboat Lake State Park and follow existing trails that go around Hahn's Peak Village and farther to the east.
Lovejoy said the proposal represents the organization's ideal situation and that she could live with the trail through Columbine Meadows. She said she even supports the new parking lot on F.S.R. 550. What is unacceptable, however, Lovejoy said, is any routes to, or parking lots at, Trilby Flats.
"It's a very important area to preserve as a non-motorized area," Lovejoy said. "We need some quiet area. : They don't need a new route that cuts right through Trilby Flats."
Foster said that no changes would be implemented in time for this winter. The Columbine Access Project is under a formal comment period that ends Aug. 25.
"We do have a wide range of alternatives to hopefully improve the situation up there," Foster said.
For more information about the Columbine Access Project, including instructions about how to submit comments, call Foster at 870-2142.