Imagine you’ve never been to Steamboat Springs.
There are the obvious first glances and entrances to this mountain city.
The drive up Colorado Highway 131 will take you past the red dirt in extreme South Routt County and through Oak Creek Canyon.
The breathtaking descent from Rabbit Ears Pass on U.S. Highway 40 also offers a first-time visitor a heck of an introduction and sweeping views of Lake Catamount and the Yampa River Valley.
But what if there was another way in?
What if a friend or significant other could drop you and your bike off on Rabbit Ears Pass and you could ride at 9,200 feet on a rim-style trail with gentle turns that offered unprecedented views of the Yampa Valley and a beginner, intermediate or expert descent into town via Steamboat Ski Area?
This is one of the dreams the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance hopes to make a reality in the coming years with the help of the city’s accommodations tax.
“What a way to come to town. What a way to be introduced to town,” local trail designer Aryeh Copa said earlier this month as he described the Walton Rim Trail that is included in the Trails Alliance’s binder full of plans. “You could drop people off at the summit, and tell them ‘I’ll meet you down at the umbrella bar.’ This could be one of our signature trails.”
Along with the Walton Rim Trail, the two other priorities of the Trails Alliance include the build out of four to five unauthorized trails on Buffalo Pass and the construction of the Morning Gloria Trail on Emerald Mountain.
The group also is promoting a potential extension of the Yampa River Core Trail for several miles to the Humble Ranch south of town, a project that essentially would open new public access to the Yampa River near the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.
All of the new dirt and pavement would aim to position Steamboat as a better hiking and biking destination for tourists.
“This project is way more than just mountain bike trails, and some people don’t understand that,” Copa said.
In applying for the lodging tax, the Trails Alliance ultimately is proposing to build, expand and improve 46 multiuse trails and connectors in the city and adjacent lands.
Proponents of the plan say their projects can be leveraged with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from such entities as Great Outdoors Colorado and many volunteer man-hours here at home.
From the start of the vetting process, the lodging tax committee was intrigued by the proposal’s potential to fill hotel beds and bring new visitors to Steamboat.
But it’s hard for the Trails Alliance to say definitively when, and in what order, trails will be built using the tax.
Instead, proponents of the plan are supportive of the lodging tax committee’s recommendation to form a new steering committee that would prioritize trails projects.
The committee is likely to include cycling advocates, city representatives and members of the lodging community.
The Walton Rim Trail, for example, likely won’t become a reality until after 2015-16 because of pending design work and approvals from the U.S. Forest Service.
It would be up to the steering committee, not the Trails Alliance, to determine when such a project should be funded and in what order.
“People need to understand the Trails Alliance is not the entity that is going to get this money,” said Eric Meyer, one of the founders of the Alliance.
In the meantime, cycling groups continue to build area trails and advance their cause of transforming Steamboat into a world-class cycling destination.
“Every time we put in a new trail, there’s a new opportunity for marketing,” Copa said.
The Trails Alliance didn’t originally propose to have the city bond for any of their projects, but some members of the City Council have indicated it could be an opportune time to do so.
The lodging tax committee met in mid-June to look more into such a scenario.
Copa and Meyer said the potential of bonding could make it easier for the city to fund costly extensions to the Core Trail, a project valued highly by hotel owners.
“A trail is a package,” Copa said. “It’s a whole experience.” ■