New project aims to understand ways Routt County can manage recreation at its most popular outdoor hotspots
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The backup to get to Strawberry Park Hot Springs on a Saturday evening. Trying to find parking at Dry Lake or Steamboat Resort on a January morning after a foot of fresh powder just fell. Running into a dozen people before even reaching lower Fish Creek Falls on a 70-degree spring afternoon. Dodging tubers while tossing a line on the Yampa River in late June.
Steamboat is a hotspot for year-round outdoor recreation, but sometimes, it can feel like everybody in Routt County and then some are trying to hit the same spot at once.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber, along with the University of Colorado and several land managers, businesses and people impacted by Steamboat’s busy outdoors scene, is working to understand how the area can better manage recreation in Routt County.
Chamber CEO Kara Stoller said the chamber looked at Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs and Chautauqua Park near Boulder, where land managers implemented very specific solutions to increased use. They wondered if something could be implemented in multiple areas of the county — if they could manage these destinations.
“We feel like we are at a point at which we can be proactive about this and not at which something needs to be completely shut down, which is a great place to be, but taking a broader look and perspective at this,” Stoller said.
The question that this project seeks to answer, Stoller explained, is “How can we notify people, prior to them arriving to a trailhead or amenity in town, that the parking lot is full or there’s a trail closure?”
“The goal would be to not have people get to a trailhead and say ‘Well, I made it all the way out here, and I really want to go, so I’m just going to park wherever,’” she said. “How can we work to mitigate that?”
“We have plenty of area,” said Chamber Community Development Director Sarah Leonard during a Routt Recreation Roundtable discussion about the project. “We have plenty of places for people to go. How do we get people going to the right places at the right time? If you want quiet use, go here at this time. If you want to go to an event, go here at this time. If there’s an elk calving on a trail, how do we shut that down before people actually get into their car and get out there? So, it’s a balance for all users, visitors and locals, making sure everybody has the experience that they want.”
Earlier this year, the Steamboat Springs Chamber received a Blueprint 2.0 grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The grant was originally intended to provide technical support to the chamber in how the organization can support outdoor recreation and manufacturing industries in the area. Later, the grant was expanded to take on a second project: destination management.
At a Routt Recreation Roundtable meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 18, roundtable representatives discussed the project, issues they’ve seen and what information they’d like to get out to the public.
The discussion ranged from how much parking is available at popular trailheads, closures due to poor conditions and to protect wildlife, what hunting season is in place, where sheep herds are grazing, what fire restrictions are in place and basic rules of recreation. Many of these questions can be answered at various websites, but there is not a clearinghouse containing or directing people to all of this information.
“I almost feel like we’re creating this Dr. Seuss book for people that don’t know how to find this information,” said Thomas Scilacci, who represents nonmotorized winter users on the recreation roundtable.
The chamber is partnering with students in the University of Colorado’s Masters of Environment program. The project kicked off last week.
CU students met with stakeholders — including representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, local governments, residents of Strawberry Park, Steamboat Resort and other business owners — to discuss existing concerns and what other areas might need to be addressed in the future, Stoller said. The students also toured sites including Fish Creek Falls, Strawberry Park Hot Springs and the lower Bear Trailhead, the Blackmer Trailhead in Fairview neighborhood and Dry Lake atop Buffalo Pass.
Researchers will then collect more information from the stakeholder group, including some data about visitation and what other communities have done, Stoller said. This will be used to come up with a few potential management solutions, which will be presented to the stakeholder group later this year.
“From there, it will be up to our community,” Stoller said.
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