Trails committee tackles building on U.S. Forest Service land

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— Community members got a crash course Wednesday on what it will take to build and improve trails surrounding Steamboat Springs on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

“The bottom line is I would like to see us be successful,” Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Chad Stewart said during a meeting with the group that has been tasked with planning for and spending the estimated $5.1 million in tax revenues on new trails.

The seven-member lodging tax committee on Wednesday focused on its wish list for trails in the Buffalo Pass, Spring Creek and Mad Creek areas.

Stewart told the committee that it is difficult for the Forest Service to focus on a particular trail, and instead they need to come up with a master plan for the trail projects.

“I’m going to have to make this a priority,” Stewart said.

Even by making it a priority, Forest Service resources are limited, and Stewart estimated it could take four years before trail construction could start.

“I want to have some realistic expectations that we can achieve,” Stewart said.

In addition to a master plan, environmental studies need to be completed.

“I’m going to do it anyway,” Stewart said.

But he said the lodging tax committee could speed up the process by a year if they provided an estimated $100,000 so the Forest Service could hire a dedicated person to focus on the trail projects for two years.

“Any help I can get outside of my full-time staff will speed the process up,” Stewart said.

The committee seemed intrigued, but committee member David High noted that the decision to spend $100,000 to speed up the process by a couple years could draw criticism from the community.

“I’m wanting to at least say we’re thinking this through,” High said.

The committee made no formal decisions on that subject and moved on to grading the specific trail projects. Members sought input from Stewart and District Wildlife Manager Dan­ielle Isenhart.

The committee went over proposed upgrades to existing “unauthorized trails” that were built without Forest Service oversight. Unauthorized trails such as Grouse Ridge and MRP are coveted by locals who do serious biking, but the Forest Service could shut them down if they wanted to.

“I think from a Forest Service perspective, these are trails that we would like to bring up to standards and possibly be a part of our system,” Stewart said.

High said upgrading the trails would create more needed advanced trails, and the committee recognized it would be cheaper to work with already established trails.

“I think it needs to happen or it’s going to be closed,” High said.

Isenhart said Colorado Parks and Wildlife is concerned about increasing activity in the Mad Creek area. Wildlife could be pushed out of the area and hunters might not have as much success.

“This is probably our No. 1 area that we are concerned about of all the areas on the forest,” Isenhart said.

Parks and Wildlife would be less concerned with trails built by existing trails or roads, such as a proposed 5-mile trail from Dry Lake Campground and up and alongside Buffalo Pass Road.

The committee also looked at a new trail that would help handle increased traffic along Spring Creek going up to Dry Lake Campground.

“This one’s tough,” Routt County Riders Vice President Eric Meyer said. “It’s a hard trail to build. It’s going to be expensive.”

Among the other projects discussed was a new 8-mile trail going from Dry Lake Campground to the area by Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

“It’s got a lot of merit,” Stewart said.

Using rough estimates of what it costs per foot to build new trails, the Gun Creek trail would cost an estimated $454,000.

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