Steamboat Springs Pickleball players, trail builders, parents and longtime Steamboat Springs residents filed into Olympian Hall on Thursday night to weigh in on how the city can improve its most unique park.
Some dreamed big, asking for such things as a new restaurant or bar at Howelsen Hill or to have it become the pickleball center of the West.
Some suggested an all-encompassing indoor recreation center and the purchase of nearby open space to add more things like hiking trails and a disc golf course.
Others in the audience of about 30 people had more simple requests such as adding better wayfinding signage and more public hours at the ski hill.
“There's a community perception that Howelsen has become a place for the Winter Sports Club, the rodeo and Triple Crown,” an audience member in the front row told city officials. “It needs to have an invitation to the public to make this a public amenity.”
With more than 22 identified users of the park, ranging from skiers to horseback riders to those passionate pickleball players, the ideas from the crowd came easily, and they were diverse.
Winnie DelliQuadri's dream of allowing local children who maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in school to get free ski passes on the hill, a system she said is used by some ski areas on the east coast, was met with nods from other parents.
And one man's suggestion that all community events from the Farmer's Market to the wine festival be held at Howelsen was met with a round of applause by many in the room.
On the other hand, the same people who offered up these dreams and visions also recognized they all will be subject to the hard reality of economics and competing interests at the park.
The park currently requires hundreds of thousands of dollars each year of city subsidy to stay open, and the scars from a significant mudslide that happened late last month served as a fresh reminder of unforeseen capital expenses.
DelliQuadri joined others in saying that before new amenities are even thought of at the park, the city will have to have some way to pay for Howelsen's ongoing maintenance and operations.
“Why build a fancy new turf field if we're unable to have the facility open to the public anyway?” she said.
Thursday's meeting centered around asking the audience questions such as what they think the greatest threat to the park is, what its greatest assets are and how operating costs should be covered.
At least three people at the meeting said they would support some form of a new tax to maintain and improve the park.
The same series of questions was recently asked to 30 to 35 stakeholder groups ranging from the Winter Sports Club to tennis players who use the park regularly.
Some of the greatest threats listed by these stakeholders were a lack of funding for infrastructure and operations, an inability to keep up with demands of the community, and a range of competing interests at the park especially between visitors and locals.
When stakeholders were asked how to cover operating costs, they suggested such things as offering sponsorships of facilities, enhancing concessions at existing facilities and increasing fees and other charges at venues.
The public meeting Thursday was a prelude to what will be months of planning for Howelsen.
The city is working in-house to develop the first comprehensive master plan for the 161-acre park for the first time since the early 1990s.
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet said the city soon will do a survey of the public to better find out what they think of the park and how it could be improved.
Dates for two additional public meetings this summer also will be announced.
“This is something that has long been the mainstay of the community,” Overstreet said. “This park has been the park not just for the city, but for the region. We want to sustain it and make it viable.”
Public feedback about Howelsen Hill
A collection of answers from the public to the following questions asked Thursday by the city:
What is the park's greatest asset?
• Ski area
• Central downtown location
• Great place for families
• It has the potential to be a grounding center for the whole community
• Free concerts and shows
What are the greatest threats to the park?
• Lack of money
• Lack of public access (cutting public ski hours)
• Parking issues
• Competing interests
How should improvements be paid for?
• Taxing district
• Mill levy
• Charging outside groups a per-person impact fee
• Paid parking during busy weekends
How should operations be paid for?
• Add a bar or restaurant to the lodge building
• Better-established night skiing
• Add Howelsen to Steamboat Ski Area pass options
• Create an annual recreational pass that includes amenities at the park and also other city amenities, including the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and Haymaker Golf Course.
If funding weren't an issue, what one thing would you like to see added at the park?
• Recreation center
• Purchase of nearby open space for trails, disc golf
• Becoming the pickleball center of the West
• Free ski passes for students who maintain B grade averages
• Farmers Market, Art in the Park, Wine Festival being held at the park
• More stable source of funding
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10