As Emerald Mountain continues to see more usage of its hiking and biking trails, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday held its third discussion about the future of commercial recreation in the area.
While no final decisions were made during the discussion, members of the commission directed Parks and Recreation staff to examine the feasibility of charging different fees for different uses, which would likely involve charging more for one-time events than local routine practices. It was also suggested to start defining areas where certain commercial uses wouldn’t be allowed and to consider which days and times commercial uses would be allowed, potentially putting a limit on one-time special events, to ensure locals still have access to trails.
Several members of the commission shared different views about whether or not Emerald currently sees too much traffic. Commissioner Ben Berend said he thinks upkeep of trails is a larger issue than the number of people using them.
“It’s not how many people are on the trails, it’s how to maintain the trails with the numbers,” Berend said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily too congested up there, but really it’s the maintenance that seems to be the toughest part of all of it.”
Commissioner Sam Rush said she has heard numerous concerns from other community members that trails are being overused by commercial groups, which include local nonprofits such as the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and one-time races like the Emerald Mountain Epic.
“When we get comments from people saying that we’re seeing 20 years of impact in the last year, you can say that’s part of the pandemic, but we have to address this impact of users before next year,” Rush said. “We can’t just put it off to next year, we have to say that maybe there are some places where these commercial groups are not allowed to go.”
Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said the city receives more special event permit requests each year, as individual trail use also continues to increase, which she said can put a strain on the trails.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a huge problem now, but we see one maybe coming and we want to get ahead of it now,” Cosby said.
Rush also expressed concern about the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club having too much of an impact on trails, as they are the city’s largest user of Howelsen Hill and Emerald.
“For a lot of community members that are not involved in Winter Sports Club, there is little bit of concern about the impact that Winter Sports Club is having on our trails,” Rush said. “That doesn’t make us anti-child or anti-athlete, it just makes us aware of the impact that Winter Sports Club is having on the trails.”
Jon Nolting, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club associate executive director, said the club works closely with the city to take care of the trails, but he understood that some community members were concerned the club is taking up too much space.
“We will be looking at ideas to make our impact on the user experience smaller, things such as staggered start times so that we’re not so impactful at the same time in the same areas of trails,” Nolting said. “We want to be responsible users.”
Commissioner Elizabeth Diamond said she was less concerned with a longtime local partner like the Winter Sports Club, and more concerned with the growing number of out-of-town or one-time events seeking to use the space.
“If we don’t have a system for managing those inquiries, that’s when we could be overwhelmed, particularly by people who aren’t as good as partners or who we don’t have direct communication with,” Diamond said.
The commission will continue its discussion at the next regular meeting Nov. 10.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.