Parks and Recreation commission looking into ways to mitigate impacts to Emerald Mountain
Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission has begun what they hope to grow into a larger conversation with the entire community: Should there be regulations on commercial groups using Emerald Mountain?
“Emerald Mountain is our gem, and it’s the backyard for Steamboat, and people are very protective of that,” said Craig Robinson, Steamboat parks, open space and trails manager. “The question is what is the acceptable level of physical or social impacts on Emerald.”
Steamboat Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said use of trails on Emerald Mountain has dramatically increased in recent years, particularly in 2020 as Steamboat’s population grew during COVID-19. While the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and other local groups have been holding events on Emerald trails for years, Cosby said more and more groups have begun holding races, mountain biking lessons and other events on Emerald trails. While each event requires a fee and permit from the city, Cosby and Robinson said they still take a toll on the natural resources and social impacts surrounding Emerald.
“Tourism is what our town is based off of, and that’s how we make our bread and butter for city services,” Robinson said. “It’s getting to the point where dollars are being made in recreation, and the question is how do we want to move forward with that while still protecting our conservation values.”
Robinson also said excessive bicycle and foot traffic on the mountain can deteriorate its trails, as well as cause issues for wildlife in the area.
“We love making all these trails, but we struggle with maintaining them,” Robinson said.
The conversation began with Parks and Recreation commission at their Thursday meeting, so no official decisions have been made, but all commissioners agreed that while Emerald is a public land that should be available for usage by all who are interested, commercial usage — particularly of mountain biking — can be harmful to the trails.
“We’re sort of in a perfect storm because you have to think about all the people who moved to Steamboat over the last three years and the fact that, for the past 18 months, a lot of people have been trying to get out and recreate,“ said commissioner Ben Berend. ”I like the idea of managing things, but we can’t limit access to public lands.“
Commissioners said commercial recreation of any kind can create problems.
While Cosby emphasized that the Winter Sports Club is a vital partner of the city, several commissioners were concerned about the lack of supervision and high number of children riding bikes down Emerald.
“I think it’s great that kids are out there, but it’s too chaotic because there’s all these kids on Emerald just zipping around out there on NPR,” commissioner Alan Koermer said. “Part of the fabric of our community is for these kids to enjoy these resources, but there has to be some balance.”
As for what the solution is, Commissioner Brent Demmit said he was in favor of looking at data measuring how many recreationists use Emerald and making a master plan similar to the Yampa River Master Plan, which serves as a guiding document for how best to take care of the river.
“We have a limited resource, and we have a lot of people who want to use it,” Demmit said.
Parks and Recreation will continue the discussion and bring findings and ideas to City Council.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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