Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Steamboat Lake sheds its winter mantle of ice

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Most of the ice went off Steamboat Lake on Mother’s Day, and while it’s no sure thing, the state park staff is working hard this week to get one campground loop open in time for this coming weekend.

Senior park ranger Brent Lounsbury said the campgrounds are muddy and there are many chores to do, including turning the electricity on, but the snow is going fast. The little bit of ice that remained on the lake Monday was on the east end near the dam, and Lounsbury predicted that if temperatures reached the 60s on Monday, it would be gone by the end of the day.

The sudden change at Steamboat Lake State Park means summer tourism season can’t be far away.

May typically is not thought of as tourist season in Routt County. But you couldn’t tell that was the case at Fish Creek Falls on Sunday. There were mothers from as far away as the great state of Virginia posing for photos on the historically restored bridge beneath the falls during the weekend.

Fish Creek is putting on a good show right now. However, those folks posing on the bridge Mother's Day weekend weren’t feeling the cold spray of the 283-foot waterfall, a sure sign that it is far from peaking. Be advised that the hiking trail above the falls is snowpacked.

Fish Creek Falls often is called Steamboat’s No. 1 summer tourism attraction. However, Routt County residents who make only a couple of visits to Steamboat Lake each season may not realize what a powerful draw it is for visitors — the park can see more than 400,000 visits annually. Numbers have begun to rebound since the campgrounds saw a drastic change beginning in 2009 with the removal of beetle-killed trees.

The lingering snow banks at Steamboat Lake must have been evaporating into thin air during the past week — there still was decent Nordic skiing at the lake May 1. Of course, the big weekend at Steamboat Lake is Memorial Day weekend, which falls from May 25 to 27 this year. Barring a sudden return to winter, that date should not be a problem.

It’s not unheard of for there to be too much snow loitering in the campgrounds for them to open by Memorial Day. It happened in 2011 when the lake still was 95 percent covered with ice Tuesday, May 24. Park employees employees called about 140 parties that already had reservations that year and told them there would be a change of plans because of a heavy remaining snowpack.

Lounsbury said this year, people already are catching fish from the lake.

“This has always been one of the best times of the year to fish up here, before the lake warms in summer,” Lounsbury said.

People can make reservations for the campgrounds for camping trips that begin as early as May 24, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. But there will be no reservations taken if a campground opens for the coming weekend. So it’s best to call the visitors center at 970-879-3922 to check on conditions before loading the camping gear into the vehicle.

Daily parks passes are $7, or you can get an annual pass for $70 ($60 for people 64 and older) at the visitor center at Steamboat Lake or the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office at 925 Weiss Drive in Steamboat. Primitive tent camping sites at Steamboat Lake cost $10 per night, basic sites cost $16. Full hookup sites cost $24 per night.

You can find a description of each individual campsite here.

A search of the Parks and Wildlife online reservation site showed that as of midday Monday, 82 of the total 182 camp sites at Steamboat Lake were open for a three-day stay from May 24 to 26.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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