Routt County trail report notes considerable usage increase on one Steamboat trail, subtle changes elsewhere

Steamboat junior Primo Famiglietti begins his descent down Emerald Mountain on Sept. 24, 2022. Emerald Mountain trails are part of the Routt County Riders trail counter program report which shows annual trail usage locally.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Riders released its 2022 trail counter program report, which collects data on trail usage across areas such as Emerald Mountain, Buffalo Pass and the Yampa River Core Trail throughout the year. 

The purpose for gathering this information is to find trends in trail usage, know what trails may need maintenance and learn what the public prefers within the trail systems. The organization has been collecting this data in association with the city’s Parks and Recreation staff since 2014. 

Routt County Riders executive director Laraine Martin said, while the data is useful in providing the city with hard numbers to back up constructing new trails, the organization prefers to focus on personal experience and the wants of the public to advocate for new trails. 

“Seeing the counter data to corroborate or inform our views on the level of usage over time, from the Routt County Riders perspective we want to use that data, in part, to justify new trails,” Martin said. “It’s certainly not the only thing we’re going to use.” 

The report does not show anything particularly outstanding in comparison to previous years and Martin says over her four seasons with Routt County Riders, the changes in trail usage have become more subtle. 

Martin believes the public often gets caught up in the rhetoric that there will be a continued explosive increase in trail use, but that is not the way it is. The one big increase she saw in 2022 came on the front side of Emerald Mountain. 

While Emerald Mountain posted similar traffic numbers to 2020 and 2021, there was a considerable increase of usage on the areas by the Howelsen stables as well as the entirety of the NPR trail, a mountain bike-specific downhill trail at Emerald. 

Martin attributes much of this increase to NPR being closed for a large portion of 2021 and opening back up with newly completed maintenance in 2022. 

Kristine McCormick rides down NPR in 2020. NPR is a downhill bike-only trail that has become one of Steamboat’s most-used trails in 2022, according to the trail counter program report.
Ben Calvert/Courtesy photo

In total, 26 counters were placed throughout county trails consisting of 20 infrared counters and six magnetic counters. 

“The counters do a mix of two things,” Martin said. “One, they tell a story that we already expect and then two, you have to take some of it with a grain of salt and realize the technology is fallible and we are working out some issues.”

The magnetic counters capture the metal of each bike that passes through, but will not count people walking by and are used mostly for bike-specific trails. 

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The infrared counters detect any sort of passing movement, collecting data on bikers, runners, hikers as well as passing animals or fallen tree branches. This could skew the data in some ways. 

Other potential issues with the data include a counter’s battery dying or people using the trail side-by-side.

While it is impossible to say the data is 100% accurate, Martin believes it is a good indicator of local trail use. She plans to continue developing the counter project and make it more accurate as the years go by. 

“We’re learning to roll with the punches with our data because a lot of things can go wrong with the counters,” Martin said. “We’ve learned to adapt to a lot of those issues.”

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