Happy Trails: Taking a look at Steamboat Springs trail-building initiative
April 8, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As the quest to use millions of dollars of the city's lodging tax to build miles and miles of new trails enters its fifth year, Steamboat Springs is starting to reap the benefits of all the hard work.
The International Mountain Bike Association has upgraded the city's trail network from a bronze riding community to a silver one.
Cycling advocates say the new designation will bring valuable marketing and attract more cycling tourists to town.
Pedestrians and cyclists have safer ways to cross the street at some of Steamboat's busiest and trickiest intersections.
Mountain bikers have ways of zipping down Emerald Mountain without the fear of encountering and terrifying a hiker going uphill.
And overall, the city has overseen the construction of more than eight miles of new trails in town and about 15 in the surrounding National Forest.
"The success we've had on the trails and the work we've been able to do so far has been phenomenal, really," said Pete Wither, a mountain biker and real estate agent who has been serving on the volunteer committee making recommendations for how to spend the tax money each year.
Wither credited much of the progress that has been made so far to the city having willing partners in the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
"And we're excited for all the new opportunities that are coming up," Wither said.
Routt County residents themselves have also shown they're willing to put skin in the game by contributing to a growing Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund that will help to ensure the miles of new trails are properly maintained.
When the snow melts this spring, trail crews will head up to Buffalo Pass to complete about 21 more miles of trail projects that were halfway completed last summer.
One such trail will create a loop offering panoramic views around Soda Mountain.
There are also plans to create a new cycling-specific trail through Spring Creek Canyon that will allow hikers and dog walkers to avoid cyclists buzzing down from the new Buff Pass trails.
But challenges still lie ahead, too.
The most ambitious trail proposal, dubbed the Mad Rabbit Trail plan, received more than 400 comments from the public.
Next week, Forest Service officials will meet to weigh concerns about how the trail proposals would impact wildlife.
With new trails, there are also concerns about the impact of adding more bicycles and traffic to nearby county roads.
And there's also the lingering question of whether the city should be investing more of the 2A funds into trails that are closer to home and less technical than some of the trails that have already been built.
Voters approved spending the lodging tax on the trail projects for a decade, and four years have now gone by.
Here's a glimpse of the trail projects that will kick off the fifth year of 2A funding, and a look back at some of the biggest accomplishments of the trail project so far.
Buffalo Pass: New trails that were completed this summer on Buffalo Pass are already starting to make headlines.
The newly named Flash of Gold Trail, which starts from a parking lot at Dry Lake Campground, was dubbed in a Denver Post article as one of the top places to hike to take in fall colors.
Forest Service recreation supervisor Kent Foster said this week the plan this spring and summer is to finish up about 21 miles of new trails in the Buffalo Pass area.
When the project is complete, the new trails on Buffalo Pass will include the 4.5-mile Grouse Ridge, 1.9-mile BTR, 9.5-mile Soda Mountain, 3.1-mile Soda Creek and Dry Lake loops and the 6.5-mile trail currently being built.
Spring Creek Alternate: This trail has been years in the making. With the Spring Creek Alternate, mountain bikers would be able to zip downhill from the new trail network on Buffalo Pass into town via a downhill-only cycling trail.
Proponents of this trail think it would reduce the number of conflicts between cyclists and hikers who are currently sharing the existing path that travels through Spring Creek Canyon.
But the proposal has not come without some concern and debate. Property owners that use Routt County Road 34 to get to their homes fear that sending more cyclists down a new trail could lead to more conflicts when they reach the county road that is shared by cars, pedestrians and cyclists. Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said there are ongoing discussions between the city of Steamboat Springs and the county about how to potentially mitigate the impact of the increased cycling traffic.
Mad Rabbit: This proposal could add as many as 79 miles of new trails in the National Forest around Steamboat Springs. The new trails would be built and designated in the areas of Mad Creek, Rocky Peak and Rabbit Ears Pass.
Foster said the Forest Service is in the middle of analyzing two different versions of the proposal. Proposal A calls for 79 miles of new trails and was designed by Forest Service staff. It takes into account concerns related to wildlife, watershed and other natural resources. Proposal B calls for 68 miles of new trails and more closely resembles a 2013 proposal developed by the Steamboat Trail Alliance Group.
Earlier this year, the Forest Service invited the public to weigh in on the proposed trail segments on an interactive map.
"We had over 400 distinct comments," Foster said. "Quality versus quantity was one of the comments we got."
Foster said all of the comments combined could spur the Forest Service to tweak the final proposal.
Another area of concern has been the trail system's potential impact on wildlife.
Once the environmental analysis is complete, construction on the trails could commence as soon as spring 2019.
In the works
City officials are still doing their homework this spring to facilitate a project that would connect hotels on U.S. Highway 40 in the southern portion of the city to the Yampa River Core Trail.
Guests at the La Quinta Hotel, the Fairfield Inn and the Holiday Inn currently can only gain access to the city's established network of trails by riding their bikes or walking along the shoulder of a busy U.S. Highway 40.
The new concrete trail connections being explored by the city would allow these guests and others to more safely and conveniently access the Walton Creek Trail and the Yampa River Core Trail.
In the bag
The city's lodging tax funds have so far supported $2.1 million in trail projects ranging from enhanced crosswalks on Amethyst Drive near Steamboat Springs High School to the creation of 20 miles and counting of new trails up on Buffalo Pass.
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Ridge Trailhead: One of the first projects to receive lodging tax funds, the Ridge Trailhead improvement added a restroom and enhanced parking spaces at a trailhead on the backside of Emerald Mountain. Prior to the improvements, cyclists and hikers often had to fight for a place to park in the crowded lot. The parking lot, off of Routt County Road 45, serves the Ridge and Rotary trails.
Wild Rose: This 1.44-mile trail on Emerald gives riders and hikers an easier route to the Beall and Ridge trails on the backside of the mountain.
No Pedaling Required: The $140,000 NPR trail was built in 2014 as a downhill-only trail specific to mountain biking. The trail begins on Blackmere Drive before the Quarry overlook. It features smooth banked turns and jumps that cyclists can just roll over if they do not want to get air.
Enhanced crossings: These crosswalk signals installed near Rotary Park and the Spring Creek Trail allow pedestrians to stop traffic by pushing a button and illuminating signs.