Forest Service environmental assessment of Mad Rabbit Trails expected this summer

Rabbit Ears Peak rises above the Routt National Forest in July of 2021. The U.S. Forest Service will release a plan for more trails on Rabbit Ears pass sometime this summer.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The long-awaited environmental assessment for the Mad Rabbit Trails project could be released as early as July after partner agencies complete a review of the project’s plan, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Michael Woodbridge, the Hahns Peak and Bears Ears district ranger, said the Forest Service has shared a draft of the plan with both Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. These agencies are currently reviewing the plan, and will submit comments back to the forest service.

“Once we get feedback from them and feel good about putting it out there, the next step would be the public comment period,” Woodbridge said.

Once released, the assessment will be the first official communication about the plan from the Forest Service since 2019. The planning has seen multiple delays, with one of the most significant being the lack of a district ranger in Steamboat. Woodbridge has been in his role since March of 2021.

“When I showed up a year ago we had a draft version of it and we had a bunch of meetings with CPW to talk through their concerns,” Woodbridge said. “Now we are at the point of final edits based on input from our cooperating agencies.”

The project traces back to a 2013 2A ballot measure that directed accommodation tax funds toward a specific list of trails outlined by the Steamboat Trails Alliance. Early plans would have connected trails on Rabbit Ears Pass with those near Mad Creek north of Steamboat — the source of the Mad Rabbit moniker for the project.

But a 2019 preliminary proposal didn’t include many of the trails proposed near Mad Creek. That proposal would have created 51 miles of new trails primarily on Rabbit Ear Pass and renaturalized 20 miles of unsanctioned, user-created trails, many in the Mad Creek area.

Last February, the Forest Service said more work on the proposal would have to wait until the new district ranger was in place. Since then, Woodbridge said they have been fine-tuning the proposal and that it has changed since its 2019 iteration.

“At one point, there were proposals for trails cutting through the forest that are no longer on our proposal,” Woodbridge said. “There’s been a number of iterations and we’ve been refining it and gotten to where we are now.”

July would be the earliest the plan could be released, but it could be later depending on the comments from state partners, Woodbridge said. If those agencies were to have serious concerns, that would further delay presenting the plan to the public.

Once released, the comment period would last at least 30 days, include multiple community meetings and a presentation at the Routt Recreation and Conservation Roundtable, a stakeholder group that has been involved in the trail proposal from the start.

Woodbridge said the meetings are most useful for presenting the plan to the public, but comments are most useful when submitted online.

“People have been talking about this for a long time,” Woodbridge said. “We’re getting closer and we anticipate it coming.”

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