The Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to endorse a master plan for Emerald Mountain Park.

Scott Franz/file

The Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to endorse a master plan for Emerald Mountain Park.

Parks and Recreation Commission sends Emerald plans to City Council

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— It was a "go" and a "go slow" Wednesday night meeting for the Parks and Recreation Commission. The group voted unanimously to endorse a master plan for Emerald Mountain Park.

It also heard members of the public speak about the proposal to allow fat bikes on groomed winter Nordic terrain on Emerald and Howelsen Hill before agreeing without a vote to send Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Interim Director John Overstreet to next week’s Steamboat Springs City Council meeting with the gathered information.

With regard to Emerald Mountain Park, the 586-acre parcel purchased in 2011 from Lyman Orton for $1.3 million, the master plan lacked any major changes, but it wasn’t for a lack of ideas. There were plenty of ideas, ones that could draw communitywide support, like more Nordic skiing trails, and ones that had vocal backers, like disc golf and a Nordic center.

Rather, a firm hired to sort through the ideas and make a recommendation concluded that the property wasn’t right for of those dreams and that with its current allotment of trails, it worked pretty well as is.

There’s no access point that abuts a road or a lot, so there’s no place to answer one of the persistent problems raised about the area, that a parking solution is needed at the base of Blackmer Drive. There isn’t sufficient suitable terrain for a large building. The ground is too steep in many places for wide, groomed Nordic trails, and conservation rules will keep it that way, preventing any serious earthwork from being done, even if there were a spot.

“The plan in a lot of ways memorializes what’s happening right now,” said Melissa Sherburne, who helped lead the analysis for the SE Group, a Frisco-based consulting firm.

“It’s a new city-owned park, but it’s not a new area. It’s very well-developed. It isn’t a large-scale area that needs a new connection, and there’s not a large flat place that would lend itself to a Nordic center. We looked at everything, from disc golf to the Nordic center to backcountry huts to an outdoors education center to new trails. Really, there are a lot of restraints, and it’s functioning well as it is.”

The advice her firm did offer the commission included some reroutes of several trails, such as Root Canal, several hiker-only trails low on the property and Nordic grooming on Prayer Flag trail, one of the few on the property wide enough to sustain it, and in several lower sections where it wouldn’t be a disruption. It also suggested a backcountry yurt be set up for “backcountry light” adventuring.

“This land is not big enough. It’s too hilly. It’s not connected anywhere. That’s not to downgrade the plan,” City Council member Scott Myller said, speaking to the commission.

He said he’d been hoping for more but realized more simply wasn’t possible given the restraints.

“It’s still the coolest, nicest place around,” he said. “Other good news ... it will be cheap.”

Waiting to roll

The commission also heard arguments about the possibility of fat bikes on the Nordic trails on Howelsen Hill. Craig Robinson, Howelsen Hill's facilities supervisor, said last month that the bikes — with fat, low-pressure tires designed to be ridden on snow — would be allowed, but the city got pushback from concerned residents, and the City Council asked the Parks and Recreation Commission to further study the issue.

On Wednesday, several spoke in favor of the idea, including representatives from local businesses who have been renting out the bikes in recent seasons. Others expressed concern about safety, especially for young Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers zooming around the trails in the afternoon, as well as accountability, asking whether trails gouged by bad-apple users would be fixed quickly to allow for quality skier training.

The Nordic Council and the Winter Sports Club each have supported the idea.

Overstreet said that he will present the issues at next week’s City Council meeting and that he took the criticisms to heart and might suggest that some trails be closed to bikers during high-traffic hours such as afternoon training sessions and big weekend competitions.

The commission also was eager for a trial period, hoping to learn how the bikes and skiers were integrating in a January meeting.

“We need to make it work and work right if we’re going to do it,” Overstreet said.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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