New endowment fund could support regional trail maintenance
Steamboat Springs — Local land managers say a new endowment fund could help trail users avoid paying fees to use new trails that are about to be built in the National Forest and other public lands around Steamboat Springs.
Over the next decade, the city is planning to use lodging tax funds to construct dozens of miles of new trails on public lands up on Buffalo and Rabbit Ears passes.
But as trails quickly expand, local land managers have been brainstorming ways to secure the funding needed to maintain all of the extra miles of trails.
As a way to avoid breaking budgets or resorting to access fees on new trails outside city limits, officials with the city and Forest Service are now proposing to set up an endowment fund to pay for the maintenance of trails on public lands.
“This is a different way of solving a problem we know is going to be out ahead of us,” said Chad Stewart, the Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. “Ten years from now, we don’t want to be left with a bunch of trails we cannot maintain. This (endowment fund) is a way of doing business without having to charge fees.”
Stewart said the Forest Service does not anticipate being able to adequately pay for the maintenance of the proposed trails around Steamboat without additional funding or access fees.
Nationwide in 2012, the Forest Service 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 backlogged maintenance.
Stewart and Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s government programs manager, will discuss the endowment fund idea Wednesday night with the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission.
If the endowment moves forward, there would be a multi-year campaign seeking donations.
The stewards of the fund would aim to raise $1 million to $1.5 million over the next decade so that at least $60,000 could be spent on trail maintenance each year.
The fund would be owned by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, and spending decisions would be made by a five-member board that would have representation from the city, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
After the board determines what the greatest maintenance priorities are, the land manager overseeing the trail would then be able to use the funding to contract with such entities as Routt County Riders, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, contractors, internal crews or others to perform the trail maintenance.
The funds could be used to maintain any trails on public lands.
Stewart said the Forest Service has found success partnering with local volunteer groups for emergency fixes of local trails, including a recent washout of the Hot Springs Trail.
But he said there needs to be a longer-term plan for the maintenance of the new trails in the National Forest and beyond.
“How are we going to maintain this system? That’s one of the first questions people ask me when I talk about these new trails that are being built,” Stewart said.
The Forest Service is currently working with the city’s lodging tax steering committee to plan for an additional 30 miles of trails on Buffalo Pass.
There are also plans for several other trails on Rabbit Ears in the coming years.
The city has already partnered with the BLM to construct new trails on Emerald Mountain.
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