Dominic DeSiato pulls his sister Bella on a sled Sunday on top of a frozen Stagecoach Reservoir. Stagecoach State Park hosted several hikers and ice fisherman on a New Year’s Day marked by clear skies and warmer temperatures.

Photo by Scott Franz

Dominic DeSiato pulls his sister Bella on a sled Sunday on top of a frozen Stagecoach Reservoir. Stagecoach State Park hosted several hikers and ice fisherman on a New Year’s Day marked by clear skies and warmer temperatures.

Hiking a welcome alternative to skiing at Stagecoach State Park

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Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail helps a group of hikers identify fresh animal prints in the snow Sunday at Stagecoach State Park.

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Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail is reflected in the goggles of Kathy Franklin on Sunday during a hike at Stagecoach State Park. The park hosted a free guided hike to kick off the new year.

— If the slopes of Mount Werner had been more snowpacked Sunday, Kathy Franklin and Susan Albers said they probably would have spent much of the first day of 2012 skiing.

Instead, they took advantage of clear blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures as they embarked with 11 others on a guided hike along the shores of frozen Stagecoach Reservoir.

“It’s beautiful out here,” Franklin, who was visiting Steamboat for the holidays from Calgary, Alberta, said halfway through the hike led by a Yampatika naturalist. “It’s not a bad alternative.”

Stagecoach State Park was one of 11 parks in Colorado that celebrated the new year by hosting a “first-day hike.” Kathleen Fischer, senior ranger at Stagecoach State Park, said the national event aims to get people outside to enjoy the outdoors in the opening hours of 2012. A news release from the National Association of State Park Directors said the event started more than 20 years ago in a state park in Milton, Mass., and 2012 marks the first year it will be hosted in parks in all 50 states.

Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail started the hike in the Keystone day-use area of Stagecoach State Park by revealing some hidden benefits inside the fauna of the high-desert ecosystem.

Cottonwoods contain the ingredients for Aspirin, she said, and sagebrush was used by Native Americans as an antiseptic, among other things. Vail then used the thin pallet of snow that covered the trail to help the hikers identify fresh animal tracks belonging to dogs, elk and mice.

“This is a great way to start the new year,” Vail said as the hike was winding down. “These hikes open up a brand new world to a lot of people.”

Vail spent much of the hike talking about the hidden ecosystem that is formed and insulated at the bottom of at least 8 inches of snowfall.

“There are a lot of creatures that actually thrive at the bottom of a snowpack,” she told the hikers.

Dry week

Sunday’s hike was billed as an opportunity for park visitors to slip into a pair of snowshoes, but dry conditions have kept much of the Yampa Valley devoid of the significant snowpack needed to enjoy the sport. And if forecasters with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction are correct, the valley has little chance of seeing any significant snowfall until Saturday.

“The week looks dry,” senior meteorologist Chris Cuoco said Sunday. “High pressure dominates for the first half of the week with not much chance for precipitation through Thursday.”

He said a system projected to move through the northern Rockies on Saturday is the first storm in more than a week that has a good chance of dropping a significant amount of snow in Steamboat Springs.

“It’s not looking like a big storm, but at least it has the potential for several inches of snow, especially in the northern mountains,” he said.

Daytime high temperatures will continue to reach the mid-40s throughout the week.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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