Eric Washburn: Impact of Mad Rabbit trails concerning
March 14, 2019
The Mad Rabbit trail proposal has generated considerable debate in and around Steamboat Springs. As a board member of Keep Routt Wild, I am both concerned about the impacts these trails will have in the Routt National Forest and understand the frustration expressed by many of the Mad Rabbit proponents — they followed a process and now are facing criticism of the proposal after simply seeking to create more options for people to recreate outdoors.
The original 1986 accommodations tax ballot initiative, which was reviewed by Steamboat Springs City Council Tuesday night to guide the discussion of the use of excess 2A funds, called for funding projects that "enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs."
The trails proposal calls for spending money in ways that will clearly harm wildlife and undermine the environmental desirability of Steamboat Springs. Many of the proposed trails will hurt wildlife, worsen traffic and parking congestion, adversely impact the economic health of the many Steamboat businesses that cater to wildlife enthusiasts and push deer and elk onto private ranches where they will eat hay, causing depredation.
It is good that City Council has paused the funding for the trails project until the Forest Service completes its environmental review. But the Forest Service has publicly noted the "need" for the proposed trails, and what the community needs is a truly independent look at these impacts on wildlife, businesses and local ranchers by unbiased experts.
The trails proposal has led 10 groups to sign onto new principles to protect the character of Routt County — an indication that it has struck a nerve at a time when there is growing concern about the changing character of our wonderful valley.
It is my hope — and that of many in our community — that we can pause, take a hard look at the impacts that these trails will have on wildlife and change course to avoid permanently harming the wildlife of Routt National Forest. By dropping some trail segments, rerouting others and committing new money for trail maintenance and enforcement, there is an opportunity to build some new trails, especially on top of Rabbit Ears pass near U.S. Highway 40, which would have minimal impacts on wildlife and thus could be broadly acceptable to the community.
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And perhaps, we could have some money left over to expand the Yampa River Core Trail for the benefit of the entire community.
Keep Routt Wild board of directors