City eyes Hitchens Island purchase to secure river access |

City eyes Hitchens Island purchase to secure river access

Scott Franz
Mel Hitchens raised horses on what is referred to by many locals as Snake Island on the Yampa River. He's pictured here in a 1992 Steamboat Pilot photo with his young colt Cabodos, a Tennessee Walker, and Apache.
Courtesy Photo

— The city of Steamboat Springs is working to build upon a handshake deal over the public’s use of a stretch of the Yampa River, which was made more than 30 years ago with a landowner who was passionate about ski jumping and horses.

The deal was reportedly made at The Cove, a long-gone Chinese restaurant in Steamboat, over dinner and a round of drinks in 1981. The agreement allowed longtime local Melvin Hitchens to have his horses graze on the city-owned portion of an island next to the Brooklyn Neighborhood.

In return, Hitchens, a ski jumper who rode horses into his 70s and cared for them on the island into his 80s, allowed the public to access the Yampa near his portion of the island he wasn’t using for grazing, and the nearby riverbanks.

It was this deal that has allowed tubers and anglers to utilize what many of them likely don’t even realize is a stretch of private property along the Yampa that starts near the Iron Horse Inn.

Today, the city wants to spend $80,000 to acquire all of what is now called Hitchens Island to guarantee permanent public river access and to allow for public improvements to be made on the property.

Some locals refer to the island as Snake Island.

Under the purchase agreement, Amy Goodwin purchased a fee title to the 4.5 acres of the island from Hitchens’ estate following his death in 2006, would be allowed to continue using a portion of the island for horse grazing.

The city would purchase the fee title to the property and simultaneously convey a life lease to Goodwin.

The area being utilized for horse grazing would still be off limits to the public.

After Goodwin’s lifetime, the entirety of the island would become available to the public and could become a park.

“What we are trying to do is essentially formalize what has been the working relationship since 1981,” Winnie DelliQuadri, assistant to City Manager Gary Suiter, said Thursday. “Amy has been a fabulous neighbor on the island, and community-minded throughout this entire process.”

The Steamboat Springs City Council will consider the purchase proposal on Tuesday.

DelliQuadri said the city has been working now for three years on the property acquisition.

Why seek something more permanent than the handshake deal after three decades?

DelliQuadri said that since the city sold the Iron Horse Inn and received a $400,000 escrow from the buyer for pubic improvements near the hotel, it’s important that the city acquires the riverbank next to the property.

The city is recommending that $46,000 of the purchase price come from the Iron Horse escrow.

The property, which was appraised at $80,000 in 2014, is protected by a conservation easement.

There already is a kayak park, bench and other improvements on Goodwin’s private property.

In Sureva Towler’s “The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs,” Melvin Hitchens was referred to as “Steamboat Springs’ oldest ski bum.”

“He has sponsored the Wednesday Night Jump Series and contributed more than $100,000 to the Winter Sports Club since 1976, when he began billing the county to use a road across his property accessing the Milner dump in order to fund equipment, passes and hot chocolate for youngsters at Howelsen Hill,” Towler wrote.

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

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