Oak Creek officials OK purchase of private land to preserve treasured trails
March 15, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Oak Creek Town Board members authorized the town to make an offer on about 165 acres of private property just west of Oak Creek. The property, owned by the Garrity family, includes a 4.5 mile-long trail system that has become increasingly popular among residents and tourists.
Board members also granted a conservation easement to the Yampa Valley Land Trust that would protect about 140 acres on the property from future development.
The sprawling landscape, smattered with scrub oak, pine trees and aspen glades, is a quintessential chunk of this region's native topography. Mary Alice Page-Allen, Oak Creek's town administrator and clerk, considers it a treasure for the public.
"This is a crown jewel," she said of the property, also known as Oak Creek Mountain Park. "This is a very valuable resource for the community, the region and everyone that visits our town."
The town made its offer on Friday, but Page-Allen would not disclose the amount until the sale is final.
This was news to Russ Garrity, who learned of the offer during a phone call from Steamboat Pilot & Today on Friday morning.
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"My wife and I are ecstatic," he said of his initial reaction.
For about the last 15 years, Garrity and his family have developed trails on their property and invited the public to use them. His wife, Clay, a horse lover, even added a riding rink for fellow equestrians.
The couple decided to sell the property in 2017 after their children grew up and left the house, saying the property had become too big for them.
The Garritys did not advertise the trails to the public but encouraged their friends to bring more friends. What began as a handful of visitors snowballed into a regular stream of devoted hikers, bikers and horse riders.
"Just by word of mouth, literally hundreds of people would show up every year," Garrity said.
He was proud to mention that local cross-country star Ben Kelley used to train on the trails before he headed to Columbia University this fall.
Based on the number of people who sign in at the trailhead, Garrity estimates that more than a thousand people now visit the property in the summer. This winter, he also has noticed people using a new snowshoe trail that he established.
Oak Creek’s attempt to make the trail system public has been more than a year in the making. Its town board met last January to consider buying the property, which had an asking price of $1.25 million. That included a 35-acre section with a house on it, which the board decided not to purchase.
In a form sent to the town board, Page-Allen wrote a portion of the property would be annexed. Officials may also gain approval for a subdivision on another 13 acres of the property adjacent to Oak Creek's sewer treatment facilities, to be used for public purposes.
Members of the Yampa Valley Land Trust, a local conservation group, obtained a $225,000 grant from Routt County to help pay for a conservation easement, which would keep the property a recreation area while maintaining its natural ecosystems.
“Our goal, through the conservation easement, is that this property will forever be available to the public,” Ryan Gelling, a conservation associate with the Yampa Valley Land Trust, said in an email.
Page-Allen hopes that making the property public will also bring more people and business to Oak Creek.
"Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in this community and Routt County as whole," she said.
Despite its growing popularity, Garrity said the property is still a hidden gem — a place where those who know about it can find occasional solitude.
"Most people still don't know that it even exists," he said.