Steamboat Springs The footpath leading over the railroad tracks from behind the Hampton Inn and Suites to Emerald Park is worn bare from the migration of soccer players and their families to the nearby fields that play host to the annual Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament. And with the tournament and its 110 teams coming into town for games that begin this morning, railroad safety advocates plan to set up camp to teach people about the dangers of crossing there.
Tracy Rossbach, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, said she and several other volunteers will be pitching a canopy tent to discourage people from illegally crossing the tracks behind the hotel parking lot on their way to the soccer fields.
Pedestrians should walk about a block north of the path to cross legally at Trafalgar Drive, then walk down Pamela Lane to the fields.
Operation Lifesaver is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing injuries and deaths related to railroads. It works with Union Pacific Corp. to identify trouble areas.
“We’ll see if we can impress upon people in your town that this is really a dangerous thing to do,” Rossbach said Thursday.
She said the group will have literature and toy handouts as they direct the foot traffic down to Trafalgar Drive.
Kelly Abaray, manager of industry and public projects for Union Pacific, said the pedestrian crossing has become an increasingly troublesome problem as more people have taken the shortcut throughout the years.
Abaray said train engineers have noted the problem and have brought it to the attention of Union Pacific’s safety committee, which in turn alerted Operation Lifesaver. She said that just like any other private property, it’s considered trespassing when people cross over railroad land.
Since its creation, parking and access has been a problem at Emerald Park. There is a parking lot at the entrance to the area but it regularly fills up for large events such as the soccer tournament. There is no parking along Pamela Lane and limited other parking in the area.
“As usual, there’s always issues with parking at Emerald, but I know we have some of the community service officers helping out at the parking (area),” Mountain Soccer Tournament director Kami Brockway said.
Brockway said she is encouraging participants to take a bus or hotel shuttle to the area.
“I would not encourage anybody to cross the railroad tracks,” she said.
Former tournament director Kris Rowse said she tells people that once the Emerald Park lot is full, they can park along the frontage road near the railroad tracks and walk down to the crossing at Trafalgar Drive.
The games rotate throughout the day, and she said that at any given time, there could be about 100 people for each game. She said a conservative estimate would be about 80 cars at a time.
Even with the parking difficulties, Rowse said she never considered moving the tournament.
“Oh no, that’s our soccer field,” she said. “That’s the best spot in town.”
Abaray said that because the area has been identified as a problem, a group within Union Pacific is working to get money for fencing to block the footpath. She said she will begin talking with Steamboat Springs city officials and hopes a solution could be in place within six months. She said the railroad typically arranges agreements where Union Pacific would install the fence but the local municipality maintains it.
City of Steamboat Springs engineer Ben Beall, who also is a soccer coach, said there has been preliminary research about moving the railroad crossing from Trafalgar Drive south so traffic would bypass Pamela Lane and create direct access to the field.
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director Chris Wilson said the city has talked about other options since the park’s creation.
“There have been ongoing discussions since the time of the park’s development about the park access, a number of meetings on it,” he said. “Do people trespass across the railroad? All along our community it happens, and it’s unsafe as it happens.”
He said the Operation Lifesaver plan seems to be a positive way to encourage people to follow the legal, safe path.
Wilson said plans for other access points are not identified as a city priority at this time.