Our View: Rabbit Ears plan offers promise of improved safety, access
January 8, 2013
Many who call Steamboat Springs home may not realize it, but the area's vast snowmobiling terrain and abundant snow make Routt County a world-class destination for snow machine riders from across the country. And once the snow begins to fly each winter, they travel here en masse to take advantage of the bounty.
Rabbit Ears Pass is the ultimate destination for many snow machine enthusiasts, and that area's popularity is reflected in the growing number of day and overnight users who pack the few parking lots that line U.S. Highway 40 over the pass.
The location and design — or lack thereof — of those lots make them a tragedy waiting to happen. In an effort to maximize the limited lot space, pickups with extended trailers, motor homes and other recreational vehicles towing snow machines and their riders often have to pull back onto the highway to back into the spots. Leaving for the day also poses safety problems, most noticeably as a result of no acceleration and deceleration lanes to help those rigs merge onto U.S. 40.
Although it's early in the process, we're encouraged by preliminary efforts by the U.S. Forest Service to come up with long-term solutions to address the growing popularity of snowmobiling on Rabbit Ears Pass. The Forest Service has begun a written comment period asking citizens to provide feedback and ideas for improved winter parking areas on the pass. The written comment period is a precursor to the Forest Service's formal comment period once specific plans have been agreed to. To be clear, the parking lot issue also affects parking areas more commonly used by nonmotorized users such as skiers and snowshoers.
Among the biggest changes being contemplated by the Forest Service is closing the East Summit lot, which is located on a partially blind curve where Denver-bound motorists on U.S. 40 begin a winding descent to the junction with Colorado Highway 14. To compensate for the loss of parking spaces, other lots could be expanded.
With the exception of the Muddy Creek lot, which is located a bit farther off U.S. 40, most of the parking areas on Rabbit Ears Pass are not separated from the highway. That lack of separation is at the heart of many of the safety concerns.
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The Forest Service is encouraging ideas and suggestions, and it also wants to know whether users would be willing to help pay for improvements through day-use fees. Written comments are due by Feb. 1. Send them to Environmental Coordinator Tony Koch at USDA Forest Service, 925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487, or email email@example.com.
In the not-so-distant past, the Forest Service helped strike a balance between motorized and nonmotorized recreation areas on Rabbit Ears Pass. By and large, that system has served both user groups well. Although funding hurdles remain, we're optimistic the Forest Service's latest effort to improve recreation access and public safety on Rabbit Ears Pass could have a similar result.