Know before you go: National Forest, Steamboat Chamber partner to compile resources for winter recreators
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Since last spring, Colorado has seen dramatic increases in outdoor recreation. The trend has positively impacted the state with an increase in sales tax at outdoor and sporting good retailers, but there are negatives as well with public lands seeing more abuse with fewer staffers to maintain facilities and trails.
This winter is showing more of the same as trailheads are full of Subarus and SUVs carrying skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers in search of backcountry access.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber, the National Forest and other members of the Routt Recreation Roundtable’s Destination Management Discussion group, are providing tools and resources to those looking to use popular winter recreation areas in Routt County. The Chamber is hosting all the information and tools at steamboatchamber.com/know-before-you-go.
Tools include avalanche information, as well as daily parking lot updates pertaining to Dry Lake trailhead, Rabbit Ears Pass area trailheads and the North Routt Columbine area.
“We want to create a better user experience,” said Laura Sourd, the Chamber’s marketing director. “At the end of the day, we want to give people the resources to be able to have the knowledge before they go somewhere, so that they’re prepared when they get to the trailhead and have a better experience once they’re there.”
Everyone in the discussion group and now the partnership, including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Chamber, Routt County and even Steamboat Powdercats, knew that Buffalo Pass had issues that needed resolving both in the summer and the winter.
This partnership and compilation of resources is just the beginning — a pilot program for what the group hopes to provide.
“It was just getting to the point where all the different stakeholders … are really trying to figure out how can we better inform the public and what are the tools we can put in place for that,” said Aaron Voos, public affairs specialist for Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland.
The biggest issue pinpointed by the group was parking, and another was educating users how to respect all user groups in the area.
Parking is already an issue at both the Dry Lake and Rabbit Ears trailheads in the summer, but winter adds some other challenges on top of the popularity of the area.
“That was one of the biggest things, knowing what the proper ways to park are,” said Soard. “It’s hard in winter because you don’t have defined spaces, and the added element in winter is also snowmobile trailers. You don’t see that in summer. That was something the Forest Service wanted to address. If people park a certain way, we can fit more people in.”
The Forest Service published a parking map for Buffalo Pass that is available on its website as well as the Chamber website. It’s also visible at the parking area.
When the lot isn’t filled efficiently, new arrivals will create their own spots, which then impedes the flow of traffic and may prevent others from entering or leaving the lot.
In addition to the sign, there is a new Twitter account, @stmbttrailheads, which is updated almost daily with photos of the trailheads, primarily Dry Lake.
The hope is that people will check to see if there is room at the lot before heading out, rather than improvising when they arrive.
Respect and expectations
The second biggest issue determined by the discussion group was user conflict.
“Sometimes, people just don’t know who has to yield to whom and what the best trail etiquette is,” Soard said. “A lot of times, we assume people know, but they don’t always.”
Hopefully, a little education can help solve that issue. The Know Before You Go website is loaded with information pertaining to multi-use and backcountry trails across the area, but there will be a new sign at Buffalo Pass as well with the details.
Snowcats and snowmobiles have the right of way. The National Forest asks that people respect Steamboat Powdercats, which has a permit, and the grooming they do. All motorized vehicles must stay on designated routes and are required to obtain an annual registration through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The Forest Service just secured funding for future projects at Buffalo Pass as well. A grant of $9,500 will be used to hire a full-time seasonal employee to work on the Flash of Gold Trail.
Additionally, the Great American Outdoors Act, signed late last year by Congress, is providing funds to National Parks and lands to address deferred maintenance projects.
Brendan Kelly, recreation staff member with the Hahns Peak-Bear Ears District, said those funds will be used to enlarge the parking lot at Buffalo Pass and improve the flow of traffic.
“It’s been on our radar for a while to do a redesign of it to improve the flow to the parking area,” he said. “So basically, the biggest change will be making a loop to drive. That’s the biggest component, to make it into a one-way loop, and we’ll probably make some adjustments to the parking spots.”
As visitors come up the hill and hit the National Forest boundary, just before parking opens up on the left hand side of the road, they will take a right through what is now forest. Drivers will reach the upper parking lot with the bathroom first, then can take a left back down the road to have access to the parking along the road.
The project, which could begin as early as this summer, will also work to extend the loop around Dry Lake Campground.
“We’ve already done the environmental analysis and the engineering design for that redesign,” Kelly said. “We just needed funds to implement it.”
Improved parking will help accommodate the growing number of users at Buffalo Pass both in the winter and summer.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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