Dan Smilkstein, president of the Howelsen and Emerald Mountain Park board of directors, said should the city buy Lyman Orton’s land, the site could one day include “a destination Nordic center,” drawing visitors for cross-country skiing and winter recreation.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Dan Smilkstein, president of the Howelsen and Emerald Mountain Park board of directors, said should the city buy Lyman Orton’s land, the site could one day include “a destination Nordic center,” drawing visitors for cross-country skiing and winter recreation.

City of Steamboat Springs considers Emerald land sale

Lyman Orton offers 580 acres appraised at $2M; site popular for hikes, bikes



— Landowner and philanthropist Lyman Orton is offering to sell 580 acres appraised at about $2 million on Emerald Mountain’s north side to the city, in a potential sale that would permanently allow public use of the popular hiking and mountain biking area but comes at a time of an extremely tight city budget.

Nothing with the potential sale — including Orton’s price for the land — is finalized, and negotiations are continuing. The Steamboat Springs City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday night, likely in a session closed to the public because the discussion involves land acquisition and real estate negotiations. Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts said last week that the city has $600,000 in grant funds from Great Outdoors Colorado available for the purchase and that conceptual talks about the property have been under way for several months.

“We’re getting close,” Roberts said. “There is some GOCo grant money, and we are going to go to the council on (Tuesday). That’ll kind of be the decision date on whether or not we go forward with the acquisition of the property.”

Orton owns a total of about 1,200 acres on Emerald’s north side, south and west of the Fairview neighborhood and south of 13th Street, also known as Twentymile Road. The 580 acres he has offered to the city are outside of city limits and lie directly west of the dirt portion of Blackmer Drive that winds up the mountain from Fairview. The acres are under a conservation easement through the Yampa Valley Land Trust. Orton long has allowed public use of the land for recreation such as hiking and mountain biking.

The acres for sale include numerous singletrack trails, the Heart Meadow, a large upper meadow and many areas enjoyed by mountain bikers.

“I would say it encompasses all of the (mountain biking) trails,” Orton said about the site for sale in relation to the rest of his land. He said he does not have any plans for the remaining 600 acres or so that he owns.

He said the parcel for sale to the city is not on the open market.

“I haven’t offered the land for sale to anybody else,” he said last week.

Orton said a purchase by the city would allow permanent public access to the property.

“I bought that land back in the early ’90s, and I’ve let the community use it and access it, recreate on it and so on … and it came to the point where I feel the best long-term action is to get the land into the hands of a public entity so it could be used as a park in perpetuity,” said Orton, 68. “We’ve developed … a vision for that piece of land.”

Nordic vision

Dan Smilkstein is president of the Howelsen and Emerald Mountain Park board of directors. He said should the city buy Orton’s land, HEMP would become the managing entity of the site that one day would include “a destination Nordic center,” drawing visitors for cross-country skiing and winter recreation.

In the summer, Smilkstein said, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps would use the new Nordic lodge for summer operations and the Nordic ski trails would become hiking trails. The site selected for the future Nordic lodge, however, is on a 70-acre parcel owned by Orton that is immediately south of Fairview and not included in the 580 acres for sale to the city.

Smilkstein said the 70-acre parcel has a higher proportional value than the 580 acres for sale. Including the 70 acres in the offer would make the total cost too prohibitive and has stalled previous negotiations, Smilkstein said.

Smilkstein also is director of the annual North Routt Coureur des Bois cross-country ski race. In addition to him and Orton, participants in discussions about the land’s future use include Gretchen Van De Carr, youth corps executive director; Gretchen Sehler, Town Challenge Mountain Bike

Race Series director; Birgitta Lindgren, owner of the Steam­boat Ski Touring Center; Susan Dorsey, executive director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust and many more.

“We started working on this idea three years ago,” Smilkstein said. “If there’s not a deal reached, it’s going to go away for a period of time.”

What if?

Dorsey said the Land Trust’s conservation easement does not provide public access to Orton’s land. That decision has been Orton’s.

“This would be a way for us to solidify and make permanent that public access that has been such a wonderful gift,” she said about a city land purchase. “This (access) is out of Lyman’s generosity and his gift to our community … and that may not always be the case with future owners.”

She said the easement does allow for a few cabins on the property. A private buyer could decide to close public access, she speculated.

“If the community decides not to accept it, it could go into private hands,” she said. Orton “could sell that parcel of land to anyone else he wants to sell it to.”

In summer 2008, Orton appr­oached city officials with a proposal to extend the city and county’s urban growth boundary. He envisioned a neighborhood with as many as 475 homes and a Nordic ski lodge on 464 acres of his property.

Orton said last week that the land in that proposal was separate from the 580 acres for sale to the city. He said he’s no longer considering the development.

“I’ve dropped the plans to do that. It became apparent that the city wasn’t going to add that to the UGB,” he said. “So I’ve moved on in my thinking since then, and I don’t have any plans to do that particular development.”

He indicated that selling the 580 acres to the city could be something of a personal legacy.

“I’ve owned this land for going on 18, 20 years now. … I don’t have any immediate plans to do anything else, but I’m not going to live forever,” he said. “It’s a pretty good chance for a pretty good price for the city to get ownership of it.”

Dollars and sense

City finance officials are crafting a 2011 budget based on a third consecutive year of projected reductions in sales tax revenues.

Those reductions have meant cuts to numerous city departments and ongoing furloughs for city employees, who continue to work — and get paid for — 36 hours per week.

“There’s no question that we don’t have unlimited city funds at this point,” City Councilman Jon Quinn said last week.

Roberts said that in initial conversations about the Orton parcel, city officials thought they’d be able to use $2 million in GOCo funding received for three separate land conservation purchases. Two of those purchases fell through, Roberts said.

“There was, several years ago, a GOCo grant to acquire properties throughout the valley, and it was about $2 million,” he said. “Initially, GOCo had indicated to us that we could transfer those dollars all to the acquisition of the Lyman Orton property.”

That indication changed about two weeks ago.

“Then we received notification from GOCo that we could not transfer the dollars and combine them,” Roberts said. “That leaves us with about $600,000 of GOCo money. … The economics have changed a little bit.”

Quinn said he’s heard talks about a range of prices and values for the 580 acres.

“I think there was concern that the $2 million appraisal was high, given that there was a conservation easement on it and current market conditions,” Quinn said.

He indicated he’d be more willing to talk about a price less than $2 million.

“Clearly, the conservative play is not to commit those dollars today. … At $2 million, I have some reservations about whether that’s the best way to spend our money,” Quinn said. “That may be a lot right now for us to look at for that particular parcel, but it also may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Orton declined to comment on the price.

“That’s under negotiation,” Orton said. “They know what the appraised value is, so we’ll just leave it at that.”


1999 6 years, 7 months ago

This is a no brainer win win situation.



ybul 6 years, 7 months ago

If there is a conservation easement on the land already which only allows a couple of cabins then it is probably not worth the asking price in today's and probably tomorrows market.


blue_spruce 6 years, 7 months ago

i hope the city moves quickly; word on the street is that ed trousil is seriously considering acquiring the land for humble ranch north.


Krista Monger 6 years, 7 months ago

So let me get this straight. We purchase the 2 million piece now, but the nordic lodge site is not a part of the purchase. Then in a few years we purchase the lodge site property. By that time we will be hostage to whatever price Orton wants. This purchase is NOT a good idea.

also...It doesn't seem fitting that in this article Orton is referred to as a philanthropist but is seeking money above the value of the property.


housepoor 6 years, 7 months ago

just think how much he could get for it if he cut up into 35's even in todays market


sledneck 6 years, 7 months ago

Great idea. Why doesn't the city use the proffits from its Iron Horse deal to make this... oh.

Or, since the police department, schools and all city infrasructure is in the black for the next 10 years the city could... oh

And since the city has plenty of money to pay its employees... oh

And since every city taxpayer is happy with their property taxes being used for recreational land purchases while they can barley pay their mortgage... oh



1999 6 years, 7 months ago

kmm...you should research ortons philanthropy


ybul 6 years, 7 months ago

Seems like the article states that the property is already under a conservation easement today and thus can not be carved into 35 acre lots. As such the appraisal is probably high as the property is simply a really big lot that one needs to care for, with no water and the only thing it has going for it is proximity to town, but people paying that much for a lot want a water feature.


jimmmmmm 6 years, 7 months ago

YVB-I'm having trouble figuring you out. Your idea sounds more like a 'spread the wealth' scheme. Didn't realize you were against Capitalism. Interesting.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 7 months ago

Well, it is definitely a better buy than the City's other purchases. 580 acres is a lot of land. If someone buys it and then denies public access then would we wish we had bought it?

The $2M price does not seem high to me. Somebody with adjacent building lot could buy it to then justify truly luxury estate and be an unique opportunity of having so much land so close to city limits.

And let's remain polite to Mr Orton. Anyone that allows public access to his property should be commended. At worst he is simply offering the City the opportunity to purchase it at a price that an appraiser said is fair. If the City has doubts about that appraisal then they could ask for another independent appraisal.

I'd put this as a higher priority than subsidizing wealthy base area property owners so if the City found money for them then they should have money for this.


mtntrekker 6 years, 7 months ago

Yes, the Emerald Mountain land would be nice for long term x-country skiing and continued mtn. biking and hiking. But at this point with the economy the way it is, not a good idea to buy. Spend the money elsewhere. $2M would pay for a few city employees to return to work, give teachers a raise, pave some Old Town streets, etc. Mr. Orton is being very nice by allowing recreation uses on his land. He said he has no immediate plans for the land. Maybe he could offer the land to the city again in a year when (hopefully) the economy is better. Is any of the land already being used in the winter for X-country skiing? Why should the city spend money on something that already works as it is.


mtroach 6 years, 7 months ago

Our town should feel lucky to have such an offer from the Orton's and with GoCo money available to offset some of the cost, the question should quickly turn to how we can raise the rest of the funds without further spending from our already scarce city budget. I wonder if a long term payment schedule is something thatcould be worked out so the public could establish interest in the property while other grants or funding for the purchase are found?

This deal could put in place a park system that together with the BLM's Emerald property would make up a 4500+acre public parcel stretching from the banks of the Yampa all the way back to Cow creek. We should not pass up this offer.


John Fielding 6 years, 7 months ago


It is true that Mr. Orton is civic minded and generous, we are fortunate to have him as a member of our community. It does seem beneficial to have this land as part of our parks facilities, but we must recognize we cannot afford everything that would be nice and improve our town. Our parks department already costs a substantial portion of our city budget.

Is there a way that private concerns can be involved to accomplish this worthy objective? Can a non profit consortium of, say Routt County Riders and the Nordic Council purchase a lease with option? Can fees and donations from users of the land be adequate to match state grants for the lease? Can the Chamber help with a drive to gather pledges from businesses likely to profit from the improvement?

We need to explore creative alternatives to the old methods of having government serve our every wish. There are other ways, and they may be better and more fair in the long run.



housepoor 6 years, 7 months ago

Why not use the TDR $$$ for this purchase? It makes much more sense than throwing $$ at a wealthy land owner who property is 20 miles outside of town and has very little development potential anyway.


jimmmmmm 6 years, 7 months ago


Sounds like you'd rather see a man not profit from his investment, and rather see it given to the community for public use. Sounds pretty lefty to me. You Fascist, Marxist, Commy! Maybe you can vote for O next go round! Ha!


sledneck 6 years, 7 months ago

Jimmm is finally right about one thing... fascists, commies and marxists would tend to vote for O.


John Fielding 6 years, 7 months ago


Just a few questions, I don't know the answers but I'm sure some folks out there do.

Does the city government have the authority to make this purchase without specific voter approval?

What would be the maintenance cost be, and would it require an increase in the P&R budget?

Would all the land, as well as the rest of HEMP be for young and able bodied users only, or will access for those unable to bike or ski uphill also be considered?

Is the lower Howelsen ski area considered a part of this park?

What percentage of the city budget could be dedicated to the P&R without seriously compromising fire and police, roads and bridges, water and sewer etc? Have we reached that limit?

Don't get me wrong, I think this could be great, but how shall we accomplish it? Not like the Iron Horse purchase I hope. How about a vote? We had one for the700 question, could a decision to proceed be called to public vote after the fact like that issue was? . .


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