Future of U.S. Forest Service trails will be focus of upcoming meeting in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Future of U.S. Forest Service trails will be focus of upcoming meeting in Steamboat Springs

A cyclist zips down a trail near Spring Creek. The U.S. Forest Service next week is hosting a meeting to discuss the future of its multi-use trails in the area.
Scott Franz

— Outdoor enthusiasts here continue to look up at the pristine Routt National Forest that surrounds them and come away with many miles worth of dreams.

Bike riders want more scenic ridges to cruise along on top of Rabbit Ears Pass.

Equestrians want more trails to trot on.

All-terrain vehicle riders want more forest to zip through.

The challenge?

There likely isn’t enough money or manpower to build and maintain all of the proposed mileage.

Next week, the U.S. Forest Service hopes to bring a variety of trail users together and start plotting out a realistic and collective vision for its large network of multi-use trails here.

The trails master plan meeting was spurred by a number of recent trail requests in the National Forest, with some of the newest and largest proposals coming from the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance.

Voters here approved spending an estimated $5.1 million of lodging tax dollars on local trail projects proposed by the Trails Alliance throughout the next decade.

Out of the 46 projects that could be funded by the tax revenue, some of the most substantial ones would be on Forest Service land.

Several members of the committee vetting the projects have said the Forest Service trails have some of the most potential to draw more visitors here, but they also are some of the most complicated.

The required environmental studies and other planning steps required by the Forest Service mean these projects likely won’t be able to start until at least two years down the road.

But it’s not just the lodging tax projects that have popped up.

The Forest Service also has gotten a variety of trail requests from off-road vehicle enthusiasts and groups looking for more trails that are accessible to people with disabilities.

“There’s got to be a balance here,” said Kent Foster, the recreation program manager for the Hahn’s Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District. “Everybody wants more and more, and we’re really at the point where it’s difficult for us to keep up with what we have. It’s a national trend.”

A report released last year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office claimed that the Forest Service currently has many more miles of trail than it is able to keep up with and properly maintain.

Nationwide in 2012, the agency reportedly was able to do some maintenance on only 37 percent of its 158,000 mile trail system and estimated it had $314 million worth of maintenance backlogged.

The GAO recommended that the Forest Service find ways to partner locally with volunteers to help maintain trails, among other steps.

It is a partnership that has been used here locally.

But the nationwide funding and maintenance shortage could be poised to affect how trails are planned, built and maintained here in Routt County.

“We’re hoping to get a pulse of are we missing something, or are we meeting the needs,” Foster said.

The Hahn’s Peak and Bears Ears Ranger District maintains about 375 miles of multi-use trails.

Chad Stewart, the district’s ranger, has made it a priority to start planning for future trail projects.

He and staff members regularly attend the lodging tax committee meetings that are focused on possible Forest Service trails.

His agency also this year received $50,000 from the lodging tax revenue to start planning for future trails with the collaboration of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

Next week’s meeting will focus on trails for all user groups.

“We intend for this charrette to be the start of a very open, public process regarding the future of multi-use trails in the Steamboat area,” Stewart was quoted as saying in a news release about the meeting. “It will bring all stakeholders together at one time to have dialogue on the existing trail network, identify what is missing and ultimately develop a desired, quality trail system serving the communities.”

The meeting starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Forest Service District Office at 925 Weiss Drive.

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

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