Our View: Howelsen has real and symbolic value

As the city of Steamboat Springs continues its new master planning process for Howelsen Hill, it’s a good time for the community to reassess the value and importance of the park and weigh in on its future. Last week, Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet announced the city was opening up a survey about the future of Howelsen Hill to the general public, and we urge local residents to go online and make their opinions known.

From our perspective, Howelsen Hill is a community institution with both tangible and symbolic value. In many ways, Howelsen represents who we are as a community. It is a critical part of our Ski Town USA identity and greatly impacts the range of youth development opportunities available here. Howelsen is where Olympians have trained, and it is also a place where hundreds of young people, not all destined for Olympic glory, spend constructive hours developing life skills as they learn about discipline, hard work and what it’s like to be part of a team.

Because the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is based at Howelsen, there is a common misconception that Howelsen exists only for those athletes, and that is not true.

Families looking for a lower-cost alternative to buying an expensive ski pass choose to make their runs on Howelsen. The Nordic trails also are heavily used in the winter, and in the summer, Emerald is a mecca for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners. Howelsen is also home to winter tubing and the Alpine slide, which are both popular among tourists.

It has been suggested by the Steamboat Springs City Council members and others at various times that maybe the Winter Sports Club should foot the bill for operating Howelsen rather than the city, and we believe that line of thinking is ill advised.

We think the city should stay the course and devise a strategic master plan for improving amenities at Howelsen Hill. The plan must include a funding plan that involves a targeted marketing campaign aimed at boosting revenue by doing a better job of promoting the amenities at Howelsen Hill to visitors as well as locals who may not be fully aware of the recreational opportunities the hill has to offer.

The online survey is a good way to involve the public at a critical time. Initially, the city sent the survey link to a targeted group of residents but did not receive enough of a response to make it a statistically valid survey. Opening up the survey to the general public was the city’s next step, and we think this is a better approach to gathering community input.

The 15-question survey asks participants how they would like to see the park funded and it also asks them to identify what keeps them from using the park and to rate the park’s various amenities.

Some of the questions on the survey are leading, but we hope the city will assess the information objectively and add the survey input to the information it has already collected from focus group meetings about the park it held with stakeholders last month.

The city will close the survey soon, so we encourage readers to go online and answer the questions today. It only takes about five or 10 minutes, and your input will help the city create a stronger vision for Howelsen Hill’s future.

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