Oak Creek considering buying nearly 200 acres of private land in Routt County to preserve a beloved trail system | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek considering buying nearly 200 acres of private land in Routt County to preserve a beloved trail system

South Routt parent Russ Garrity and his dog Cayman walk on the trail behind Garrity's house.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Russ Garrity started allowing his neighbors and the general public to use the trail system he built on his sprawling property just west of Oak Creek, he said about 20 or so people signed the trail register during the summer.

Today, Garrity said hundreds of people sign that register before they head off on a mountain bike ride or a hike.

Teachers have hiked on the trails to prepare for a long distance running race. And local school children have taken field trips to the trails, which are steps away from downtown Oak Creek.

"It's just been exciting to watch," Garrity said Tuesday of the increased traffic on the trails. "People are so appreciative."

Now, 15 years after Garrity started building what would become a 4.5-mile long trail system with 800 feet of vertical gain just outside of the town limits, the town of Oak Creek is considering purchasing Garrity's nearly 200-acre property to ensure the public continues to have access to it forever.

A map shows the location of the trails and the Garrity property in relation to the town of Oak Creek.

Oak Creek's Town Board is scheduled to meet in a potential closed-door session Thursday night to discuss the real estate opportunity.

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The asking price for the property is $1.25 million, and town officials say they are still working on the details of how the purchase would be funded and how the trails would be maintained.

"The ultimate vision here is to protect and conserve mainly the public access trails the Garritys have developed on their property," Oak Creek Town Manager Mary Alice Page-Allen said. "This has the potential to be a crown jewel for South Routt, and not just the town, but the community as a whole. These kinds of opportunities don't come around very often."

Page-Allen said the discussions about the town acquiring the property started after the Garritys listed it for sale last year.

Garrity said now that his children are grown, the home on the property has become too big.

The Garrity family has homes in Oak Creek and in Grand Junction, and Russ Garrity said they don't plan on leaving the Yampa Valley.

"We think it's a great idea to take the 4.5 miles of trails we've built over the last 15 years and see them preserved forever for somebody to use," Garrity said.

Garrity said he was approached by the town board about the opportunity to have the land acquired for the public.

"They thought not having trails and open space like that would be a real drawback," he said. "It's not like Emerald Mountain, but it's a mini Emerald Mountain for Oak Creek."

The South Routt Recreation Association is also involved in the discussions about the property.

“This is just an incredible opportunity to have what seemed almost impossible to have at a glance,” SRRA director Mark Wertheimer said. “Oak Creek is surrounded by private land, and all the public lands are a little ways out. We’re excited about having this kind of accessibility (on the Garrity property) for everybody in town, including visitors.”

Page-Allen said if the purchase goes forward, at least some of the land would be annexed into the town limits.

The town is also still exploring other ways of helping to fund the purchase, including selling some small portions of the land separately to some landowners who are adjacent to the property and want to extend their backyards.

The home on the property also could be sold, she said.

In terms of trail maintenance, Page-Allen said a new trails maintenance endowment fund could provide some assistance.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions as far as this goes because it's a moving dynamic," she said. "We have some concerns about being able to property maintain the property … It is one of those things we're going to have to provide a comprehensive answer to before the town board is going to take on a property of this significance."

The town board meeting starts at 6 p.m., and the discussion about the Garrity property is listed as an executive session near the end of the meeting.

The town board also could vote in public session after the closed-door meeting to approve a resolution in favor of purchasing the property.

"The board can choose (not to meet in executive session), but I think the Garritys would like to reach a deal and then trot it out to the public before we go any further with this," Page-Allen said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.