Parks and Recreation moves toward more strictly regulated use of Emerald Mountain trails

The view from the Bluffs Loop on Emerald Mountain. Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation commission has approved new regulations for commercial programs and events on the mountain.
Photo by Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

After four months of discussion, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation commission unanimously approved a series of regulations for commercial programs and events on Emerald Mountain.

Commissioners made the decision at a Thursday, Jan. 13, meeting.

Because the mountain’s trails are funded by city taxpayers, commissioners began the discussion to ensure those who pay for the trails have unfettered access to it. Commissioners also wanted to limit any degradation to the trails, which many said happens after a series of large events or back-to-back programs.

“The question is how do we minimize the impacts to the public and to the natural environment,” said Craig Robinson, Steamboat parks, open space and trails manager. “We want to make sure we’re not negatively impacting the public’s ability to use these trails.”

Commissioners laid out different rules for events, programs, lessons and tours that now await City Council approval.


For events, applicants must follow the city special event permit request process and pay associated fees. All trails event groups will be using must be approved by city staff. Proposed trail use is developed and approved by staff.

The dates, times and course information also must be posted before at trailheads at least a week before an event.

Event participants are also required to take a trail etiquette education component.

“I think in a general way, not using the trails at inappropriate times or in inappropriate ways is covered,” said Parks and Recreation director Angela Cosby.

The number of participants on trails will also be limited to 500 at one time, with 750 participants per day.

Commissioner Sam Rush emphasized that these rules are subject to change, but commissioners wanted to start with strict limitations and relax them if needed.

“It’s always easier to expand use rather than taking it away,” Rush told other commissioners. “In the first year of these protocols and things, I think we can start small and then expand from there.”


Programs — defined as recurring uses of the trails, whereas events are one-time uses — must follow all the same protocols as events, but they have a maximum group recommendation of 10 participants to every one instructor.

Groups must also stagger start times, avoid prime use days and hours, and disperse groups on trails.

Because the no-pedal-required (NPR) bike trail is one of the city’s busiest and only bike-specific trails, commissioners voted to limit groups to only one ride down the NPR trail per day. If groups want more usage, they can pay an additional $3.75 per run, an impact fee meant to offset the city’s cost of maintaining the trail.

“It was in really rough shape last summer, so I completely understand the expense and the planning that goes into maintaining that trail,” said Commissioner Elizabeth Diamond.

Bicyclists are still free to ride NPR as many times as they want on their own time, but programs will be limited to once per day.

Still, Diamond and other commissioners felt limiting NPR could increase user conflicts on other trails, and they wanted to revisit the rule after the coming summer.

“The trail is always in bad shape by the middle of the summer, if not before the middle of the summer,” said Commissioner Brent Demmit. “For now, when the trail is always almost in bad shape, I would vote to keep it at one.”

Lessons and tours

May 1 through Oct. 31, city staff may approve up to two running or walking outfitters and up to two biking outfitters.

The same rules apply for snow shoe, fat bike and cross-country ski outfitters in the winter.

Outfitters must also pay an annual $100 fee.

Groups will be allowed to have five participants for every one guide or instructor. More guides are encouraged with beginner and intermediate groups for safety.

Each outfitter is permitted for no more than one group per day, with no more than 200 people in a six-month season.

Permitted day uses cannot exceed four hours. Outfitters are not allowed to operate on days when large events are held on Emerald.

City Council will now have to approve two readings of these rules before they are implemented.

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