Dry Lake’s parking problem: Routt County commissioners pitch solutions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners brainstormed several solutions to traffic and parking issues at a popular recreation spot on Buffalo Pass during its meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners heard from law enforcement and U.S. Forest Service officials about the Dry Lake area, which has become increasingly frequented by recreationists throughout the year, ranging from mountain bikers in the summer to snowmobilers in the winter.
A spike in visitation in recent years has caused an overflow of parking onto Routt County Road 38A, which has blocked traffic and angered homeowners in the area.
The issue culminated over President’s Day weekend when the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Routt County Road and Bridge Department received several complaints from residents about blocked roads. They claimed emergency vehicles could not have bypassed the vehicles in the event of an emergency.
Residents also reported seeing snowmobilers drive their sleds up the county road to access public trails in the forest, which Routt County Sherriff Garrett Wiggins said is illegal.
Ben Beall, president of Strawberry Park Group Homeowners’ Association, said the years-old issue has reached a breaking point for residents demanding action.
“The snowmobiles on 38 have always been a problem,” he said. “They’re not going away.”
To stop people from taking their snowmobiles on the roads, commissioners recommended adding more signs alerting recreationists about the law.
Wiggins questioned the efficacy of such a solution.
“You can put all the signs in the world, and people are still going to ignore them,” he said.
He added that while deputies can issue a citation to snowmobilers riding on C.R. 38A, it is more difficult to address Dry Lake’s parking issues. Wiggins explained that drivers may park their vehicles along the county road, even if it partially obstructs traffic.
“As long as there is at least one lane of traffic, no one is violating the law,” he said.
Kent Foster, a recreation specialist for the Forest Service, did not attend the commissioner’s meeting, but he is familiar with the Dry Lake area and the traffic problems it poses.
He said he has seen as many as 60 vehicles trying to park at the Dry Lake Campground lot, which is designed to fit just 30 to 40 vehicles.
Foster said three to four Forest Service rangers usually patrol the area in the winter and hand out parking violations to certain vehicles. But after people drive miles up the county road, he said they are unlikely to turn around just because the parking lot is full.
Commissioners discussed several possible solutions to manage the amount of visitors in the area, including a recreation fee and additional parking.
Tara Umphries, ranger for the Hahns Peak and Bears Ears Forest Service District, said Forest Service officials have discussed establishing a fee site at Dry Lake, similar to the one at the Fish Creek Falls trailhead. Such a site requires extra maintenance, which she said would tax an already-strained staff of rangers.
With regards to parking, the Forest Service announced plans last year to improve the parking lot at the Dry Lake Campground but not to expand the number of spaces. The agency will reconfigure the lot to a one-way, pull-through design with separate entry and exit points.
Umphries anticipates the new lot will be in place by 2020.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean more capacity, but it engineers [the parking lot] more functional for getting in and out,” Umphries said.
The Forest Service has shied away from adding more parking spaces in the area for fear it would bring even more people to an already-overloaded destination.
Ray DuBois, Routt County’s public works director, echoed that sentiment during the meeting.
“If you double the parking lot, you’re going to have that many more people going up there,” he said.
Foster emphasized that in the winter, the issue goes beyond increased visitation. Snowmobilers are also hauling up bigger rigs that can measure the length of three to four cars.
“It used to be that people would go up with a two-place trailer and a pickup truck,” he said.
Recently, Foster has seen trailers capable of carrying six to eight snowmobiles that can stretch 40 to 50 feet with the attached truck.
For now, the issue of parking and snowmobilers on C.R. 38A remains largely unresolved. Commissioners and officials hope that more tangible solutions will arise in the slower spring months before recreation spikes again in the summer.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he and his fellow commissioners want any proposed fix to strike a balance between the needs of recreationists and the homeowners in the area.
“We support these guys coming out, just so they’re not infringing on our local residents who actually live out there,” he said.
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