Steamboat closes Emerald land deal for $1.3 million
586 acre parcel to be preserved for public recreation
March 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — While his $1.3 million land sale closed in Steamboat Springs, Lyman Orton was biking on the side of a mountain in Santa Barbara, Calif.
A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have scripted it better.
The city closed Wednesday on its $1.3 million purchase of 586 acres owned by Orton on Emerald Mountain's north side, a parcel long valued by the public for recreational uses including mountain biking, hiking and Nordic skiing. Orton had left the land open for public use, but the city's purchase will make it so in perpetuity.
"We've always had a vision of this property being open to the public," Orton said via cell phone. "Hopefully, it's the first step in a long, positive direction."
The Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group has signed a contract with the city, pledging to manage the property through its own fundraising and guidance. Groups including the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Routt County Riders and others are involved under the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park umbrella. Visions include a Nordic center, an expanded trail system and multifaceted recreational use.
Dan Smilkstein, president of the Mountain Park group, said a retreat is scheduled for next week.
"That's where we're going to start our strategic planning, master planning, fundraising and so on," Smilkstein said. "This summer, the main thing that we'll be looking at is trail improvement, cleanup of property, safety things. … We're just going to move ahead slowly, and our job is to prove that a group of dedicated volunteers can get this going."
Despite those volunteer efforts, the Emerald purchase could have significant impacts on the city's budget for years to come.
Negotiations for the Orton parcel stretched throughout several months in late summer and fall. Steamboat Springs City Council approved a purchase contract of about $1.3 million Oct. 19. The purchase includes a $600,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant approved in December and about $755,000 from the city's capital improvements fund.
That fund faces shrinking reserves and is projected to have about $2 million available annually from 2013 until at least 2016.
"There are going to be a lot of mothballed projects to do this," City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark said in February, referring to the Emerald purchase.
Citing budget concerns, City Council President Cari Hermacinski voted against the Emerald expense on more than one occasion. She was the only council member to do so. The Emerald purchase received strong public support throughout negotiations.
Hermacinski's role as City Council president required her to sign the closing papers Wednesday at Heritage Title Co. in downtown Steamboat. Hermacinski said her concerns were "water under the bridge" and the time for debate was past.
"This is the will of the council, hopefully representing the will of the community," she said. "Open space consistently is a top priority of the community."
Hermacinski; city government programs manager Winnie DelliQuadri; city attorney Tony Lettunich; Susan Dorsey of the Yampa Valley Land Trust; attorney Bob Weiss, representing Orton; and Bernadette Murray, Orton's authorized agent, attended Wednesday's closing.
Senior escrow officer Jane Denning handled the brief proceedings.
"Unless there's anything else, we're done," Denning said after numerous signatures, piling papers into a neat stack with an authoritative smack.
And that was that.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com