Our view: Innovative funding source matters
The U.S. Forest Service approved a plan last week that will add or improve 46 miles of trails in the Buffalo Pass area.
The project is a great example of the positive outcomes that occur when public and private organizations collaborate.
A project that will add 30 miles of new trails on Buffalo Pass received final approval from the U.S. Forest Service Aug. 30, and that’s exciting news for trails advocates as well as anyone interested in increasing the appeal of Steamboat Springs as an outdoor recreation destination.
The new trails are being developed for use by cyclists, hikers, horseback riders and ATV drivers, offering access to new areas of the Buffalo Pass area’s rugged and picturesque terrain.
In addition to construction of new trails, plans are to improve an additional eight miles of trails that were built illegally in the National Forest, and another five acres of illegally built trails will be abandoned and rehabilitated to natural habitat. The project also calls for improvements to the heavily used Dry Lake parking area.
The project was delayed by objections filed by two local residents and an environmentalist from the Front Range who were concerned the new trail system could impact wildlife habitat and also potentially damage a fragile ecosystem near the summit of Soda Mountain.
According to Hahn’s Peak Ranger District recreation program manager Kent Foster, the concerns were addressed by rerouting one of the trails around wetlands in the area and designing portions of the trail to be more challenging so that cyclists have to travel at slower speeds.
Foster, who is a man we have great faith in, believes these changes make the project better and we believe him. For example, by making the trails more technical in places, conflict between cyclists and other types of trail users will be minimized due to the slower speeds.
And while we’re on the subject, we’d like to encourage trail users to respect the nearby Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary when enjoying the new trail system. According to the Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, wilderness is defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas, and we hope cyclists and ATV users planning to use the new trails will stay on them and out of the wilderness area.
Routt County Riders have been working with Forest Service personnel to plan the new trails on Buff Pass, and we think it’s a great example of what can be accomplished through private-public partnerships. During a time when the Forest Service is having to close trails nationwide because the federal agency doesn’t have the resources to maintain them, the Steamboat Springs community has come up with an innovative way to pay for trails and their upkeep.
The project will be financed by the city’s lodging tax fund, and volunteers have committed to help with ongoing trail maintenance. There are also plans for an adopt-a-trail program whereby businesses can sign up to provide maintenance on sponsored sections of trail.
The 1 percent tax on lodging is expected to generate an estimated $5.1 million throughout the next decade, and that revenue will be used to build new trails. In connection with that funding source, a new trail maintenance endowment fund, which held by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, has been established to help maintain the trails being built by the lodging tax. It is hoped fund contributions will generate at least $1 million over the next eight to 10 years.
And it was the existence of both the lodging tax and the trail maintenance endowment fund that helped get the Forest Service on board with the proposed trail improvements.
Foster referred to the innovative trails plan as a “home run,” and he said the Forest Service wouldn’t have had the funding to complete the new trails project on Buff Pass if the lodging tax dollars weren’t there. We’re glad Steamboat Springs voters got behind the lodging tax three years ago, and we appreciate the Forest Service’s openness to adopting creative solutions to get the trails built.
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Though the city of Steamboat Springs saw a slight decline in 2020 sales tax revenue as COVID-19 hit Routt County, the city is expected to catch up to its 2019 revenues.