Forest Service delays construction start on Mad Rabbit trails project
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The U.S. Forest Service has delayed a potential start of construction on the Mad Rabbit trails project, a series of trails connecting Mad Creek to Rabbit Ears Pass.
Brendan Kelly, Forest Service recreation specialist, told the 2A trails Accommodation Tax Committee — comprised of Steamboat Springs city employees, representatives from the Steamboat Chamber and at-large community members — that the Forest Service would need to hire a permanent ranger for the project. The ranger is coming from the Tahoe National Forest and will begin March 1.
“We can’t really offer a timeline on construction and development until we have a permanent ranger,” Kelly said.
Before construction can begin, the Forest Service needs to release an environmental assessment draft, which would be subject to a 30-day public comment period, then a 45-day objection period. Kelly said the Forest Service estimates having an initial draft ready in May, and if all goes smoothly in the comment and objection periods, completing the assessment in August and breaking ground in 2022.
In addition to delaying the environmental assessment, Kelly said the Forest Service has now partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure wildlife in the area are not impacted by trail construction and human usage of the areas.
Larry Desjardin, president of wildlife nonprofit Keep Routt Wild, said Parks and Wildlife joining the project is “a big deal.”
“I wish it happened a long time ago,” Desjardin said. “I think this can be much more positive because wildlife can be taken into consideration while you’re creating the plan.”
Desjardin said while the delay may be frustrating to some, he hopes the Forest Service takes this as an opportunity to rethink the location of certain trails using new digital elk calving maps. Desjardin hopes the Forest Service places more trails south of U.S. Highway 40 rather than north to minimize disturbance of elk.
“I think this can be much more positive because wildlife can be taken into consideration while you’re creating the plan,” Desjardin said.
The Accommodation Tax Committee was established by a Steamboat City Council resolution and serves as an advisory committee for 10 years as approved in the 2A ballot measure. The funding was passed in 2013 and will end in 2023. For now, funding from the measure must be spent on a specific list of trails, though some members of the committee expressed support for asking voters to approve funding to go elsewhere.
“This is a very long, deliberate process it will take to approve the Mad Rabbit,” said Jason Landers, an at-large committee member. “Maybe we can open up the book again and ask the city if there were more Core Trails that needed to be built or Howelsen needed new trails.”
Winnie DelliQuadri, city special projects and intergovernmental services manager who serves on the committee, emphasized that city voters would need to approve such a move, which could take even longer than waiting for the Forest Service to complete its assessment.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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