Steamboat parks, trails seeing large increases in visitation
Parks and trails in Steamboat Springs have so far experienced a busier year in 2021 than ever before.
While it’s difficult to collect specific data on each park and trail, noteworthy increases in attendees have been recorded at the Yampa River Botanic Park and Steamboat Pro Rodeo Series.
Howelsen Ski and Rodeo Manager Brad Setter said rodeo attendance has been between 4,000 and 5,000 attendants per weekend. The city did not hold the rodeo in 2020 due to COVID-19, but Setter said that number is a 35% increase from 2019.
“For a lot of the tourists, this is a fairly authentic Western experience that they’re looking for when they come to Steamboat,” Setter said. “You can’t necessarily see that everywhere, and this is something that’s walkable and offered downtown at night.”
While the city has not made any firm decisions on how to spend increased revenue flowing in from the rodeo, Setter said discussions have focused on more seating in the bleachers and an updated restroom.
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Considered to be a hidden gem by many, the botanic park saw a 96.6% increase in donations from 2020 to 2021.
Jennifer MacNeil, manager of the botanic park, attributed the increase in donations to the higher numbers of tourists visiting Steamboat, particularly those looking to get away from the crowdedness of a city.
While the park is free, city staff have set up a cash donation box and credit card meter outside the park with signs asking patrons to donate and help keep the park accessible and looking nice.
TripAdvisor.com also ranked the Yampa River Botanic Park as one of the top free attractions in the city, and MacNeil said each year, the park sees more tourists visiting while they are in town.
“I think we’re still trending with gardens across the country, where people are looking for outdoor activities in a safe, healthy environment,” MacNeil said. “People are sometimes surprised to see there’s a botanical garden here.”
This is the first year the city has had a full-time manager overseeing the park, which Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby also attributed to the increase in funding.
While more visitors in an area can sometimes correlate to degradation of the area, MacNeil said most park visitors are careful to stay on the trail and respect the park’s rules of not touching rocks or plants.
Park staff renovate at least two gardens within the park each year, and MacNeil said the park’s board of directors also hopes to redo both gates to be wider and provide easier access for people with wheelchairs and strollers.
Around Steamboat, the city’s Haymaker Golf Course has also seen higher use.
Haymaker Professional Cody Hasten said golf course visitation has increased by 55% since 2019. Hasten said while more golf course users bringing in revenue for the city is helpful, he has seen locals voice concerns over not getting enough time on the course, which many have said is overcrowded with tourists.
“We’re figuring out ways where we can get our locals out on the golf course a little bit easier,” Hasten said. “That’s the big struggle we’ve had so far this year is figuring out locals versus out-of-town guests and availability.”
Hasten said while increased visitors can take a toll on the course, maintenance crews have managed to keep any negative impacts to a minimum.
“In theory, more players means rougher conditions, but we really haven’t seen that,” Hasten said. “Our maintenance crews have done a really good job, which is helpful.”
While parks have seen little to no negative side effects to the increased visitation, Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson said the city’s trails, particularly those on Emerald Mountain, have suffered from increased bicyclists in a dry year.
“We have a very active community who moved here to be able to recreate outdoors and use whatever passion they have,” Robinson said. “Our soils on Emerald have a lot of clay and fine materials that are impacted easily by traffic.”
Robinson said while many in the city have expressed a desire for more trails, such a request is difficult to fulfill because parks and recreation is struggling with a lack of staff, which makes maintaining already existing trails more difficult.
“We’d like to be able to provide that extra level of maintenance,” Robinson said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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