Multi-agency effort to enhance snowmobile parking on Rabbit Ears Pass underway
Steamboat Springs — The long-awaited modernization and safety enhancements to snowmobile parking on Rabbit Ears Pass is underway this month with the beginning of construction of the new Dumont parking area, which will replace the existing unsafe parking along U.S. Highway 40 at the turnoff to Dumont Lake about 15 miles south of Steamboat Springs.
And there’s more coming in 2016.
U.S. Forest Service Hahn’s Peak Ranger District recreation program manager Kent Foster said this week that a significant expansion of the existing Muddy Creek parking area is also in the works for next summer.
Altogether, “this is a six-figure project — a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Foster said. “We couldn’t have done it without our partners.”
The effort has brought together units of federal, state and county governments, but the involvement of the snowmobile community is especially important, he added.
Those partners include neighboring Grand and Jacksons counties with both contributing in-kind construction work from their road and bridge departments. Routt County will be asked to do the same on Sept. 8. The Colorado Department of Transportation and Routt Powder Riders are also playing significant roles.
“The Powder Riders are able to access grants as well as contributions,” Foster said.
Powder Riders President Ed Calhoun explained this week that Colorado Parks and Wildlife requires snowmobilers to buy annual permits and the permit revenues fund grants that allow his club to groom two 50-mile loops on Rabbit Ears each winter. Grants have also been awarded for the expansion of parking on the pass.
Parks and Wildlife reports that both resident and non-resident snowmobilers who bring their sleds into Colorado are required to purchase an annual decal for $30.25, and they give out about $700,000 in grants annually.
The new parking lots won’t result in a major increase in parking spaces, Foster said, but sledders should appreciate more convenient parking that is intended to eliminate some of the cramped spaces they currently squeeze their trucks and trailers into.
This summer’s work will create 35 new spaces that are set back from U.S. 40 at Dumont. And next summer’s project will add 40 new spaces in a lot just to the east of the existing 50-space Muddy Creek parking area (across U.S. 40 from the entrance to Buffalo Park).
However, in addition to adding parking spaces, the work on Rabbit Ears will eventually subtract some spots that are too close to the highway. That includes the existing 20 spaces at Dumont and another 30 spaces at the East Summit, where westbound traffic lanes begin to squeeze down from two lanes to a single lane.
Part of the difficulty at the parking areas along the highway stems from the increasing size of the vehicles and trailers sledders drive to the powder fields on Rabbit Ears.
“It’s just the size of the rigs,” Calhoun said. “Some of the guys come with 40-foot rigs. Other guys come with an extended cab dually (double-axle) pickup pulling a (covered) trailer that easily carries four sleds.”
In some cases, sledders back their large trailers into the existing parking lot at Dumont then pull back onto the highway to straighten out.
Foster said the Forest Service also has plans for future improvements at the skier parking lots on Rabbit Ears.
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