The U.S. Forest Service announced Friday that it has reached a final decision to move 2.5 miles of a popular snowmobile trail linking Steamboat Lake State Park to the National Forest in order to bypass the historic gold mining community of Columbine.
People who object to the decision have 45 days beginning Sunday to appeal, Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District Ranger Jamie Kingsbury said.
The plan already has produced 200 comments from the public, and Kingsbury said she knows it isn’t popular among snowmobilers or backcountry skiers.
“This has been a tough decision to make,” Kingsbury said. “I realize I haven’t made everyone happy.”
The decision means the new trail section will cross the lower portion of a popular intermediate backcountry powder skiing area known as Columbine Meadows and lead to a new parking area near the entrance to Big Red Park.
Snowmobilers told the Routt County Board of Commissioners in November that they would rather see the new parking lot built off Routt County Road 129 close to Trilbey Flats, improving access to a large snowmobiling area to the west.
The trail in question currently follows Forest Service Road 490, which travels through private land and Columbine on its way north. The Forest Service shares the road with 25 property owners in a private subdivision.
“I felt strongly this groomed (snowmobile) route needs to bypass Columbine and give the landowners a break,” Kingsbury said. “I’m also committed to groomed snowmobile access, so this was the middle ground.”
The new trail route would shift 2.5 miles of its length onto Forest Service land to accomplish the Columbine bypass. Of that length, a little less than a mile of the trail would cross Columbine Meadows.
Kingsbury said she is seeking the voluntary cooperation of snowmobilers to remain on the trail in that stretch.
The voluntary closure of Columbine Meadows outside the boundary of the trail differs distinctly from Forest Service management of winter recreation on Rabbit Ears Pass, where boundaries between nonmotorized and motorized recreation are enforced, Kingsbury said. She said if, throughout time, the voluntary restrictions aren’t observed, she reserves the option of making them mandatory.
“We kept the trail off to the west side of Columbine Meadows as far as possible. Snowmobilers will need to stay on the trail through this area,” Kingsbury said. “We also expanded the voluntary nonmotorized area by 126 acres.”
She said that the sensitive stretch of trail will be well marked and that the Colorado Snowmobile Association has agreed to help with public education in the area.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t have (located the trail in Columbine Meadows) if it wasn’t my last resort,” Kingsbury said.
She added that now that her decision has been formalized, the appeals process is seeking public reaction from people who think the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act weren’t followed properly. An announcement of the decision describing the appeals process will be published in the legal notices in the Sunday edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Find details under the Schedule of Proposed Actions list at www.fs.fed.us/sopa/forest-level.php?110206.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com