City, county collaborate to purchase and preserve land straddling Yampa River
Steamboat Springs — In a deal scheduled to close Friday, the city of Steamboat Springs will purchase and preserve 35 acres straddling the Yampa River on the south side of Emerald Mountain.
Public recreational use – including an expansion of the Howelsen Hill trail network – is planned for the property being bought for $1.3 million from Jay and Jamie Biedenharn.
The property is being put into a conservation easement that will be held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust. The purchase was aided by $275,000 from Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program and a $400,000 open space grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The city’s share is $625,000.
“The Biedenharn property is an important addition to ongoing conservation efforts in the Yampa Valley,” Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO’s acting director, said in a written statement. “This project builds on open space, outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities in Routt County.”
The parcel includes a small portion of the public Yampa River Core Trail inadvertently built on the Bidenharn’s private property because of discrepancies between land surveys. Last year, trail users were detoured from the trail for about 12 hours in an effort by the Biedenharns to prevent losing the property through a legal process known as adverse possession, which stipulates that a private property owner gives up rights to that property if he or she allows the public to use it for 18 consecutive years.
Although the city’s purchase will resolve that issue, City Council President Loui Antonucci said it is “not as important as protecting the property for the use of the people of Routt County.”
“Since 1990, the city has undertaken a bold initiative to protect the Yampa River throughout our urbanizing area, to protect Emerald Mountain and to provide appropriate public access and outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors,” Antonucci said in a written statement. “Even in this economically constrained time, the acquisition of the Biedenharn property is an important piece of this visionary project.”
“It will expand the Emerald Mountain parcel with both banks of the Yampa River,” Antonucci added Monday.
Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said community surveys reveal a local consensus for more open space and an expansion of trail networks.
“This is a great partnership to provide that for our citizens,” she said.
“If you don’t do it, it’s gone,” County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush added.
Ron Roundtree, chairman of the PDR advisory board, noted that the property is very visible and provides scenic vistas.
“It’s a rare opportunity to put county lands into a preservation process that also affords public access,” Roundtree said, noting that many PDR projects are on private property; this is the fourth PDR project involving city-owned property. “It’s no secret that it’s the citizens of Steamboat Springs that carry the votes that carry the program.”
With the approval of this project, the county’s PDR program has completed 21 projects protecting 11,795 acres at a total cost of $5,369,119, or $455 an acre. The advisory board is reviewing seven additional projects totaling 4,477 acres.
The program is funded by a 1.5 mill property tax approved in 2006, nine years after the program first was approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years. Voters exempted the program from the state’s revenue growth limitations. Its tax revenues increased 34 percent last year, from $1.2 million in 2007 to $1.6 million in 2008. The program is expected to collect $1.7 million in property taxes in 2009.
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As the snow melting off the peaks surrounding Steamboat Springs feeds the Yampa River, rafters, canoeists, kayakers and paddle boarders are trying to make the most of it.