STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In an effort to improve public safety and stop an ongoing trespassing problem, Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials plan to make several changes to the trails and a road near the Spring Creek Trail.
The first of these changes, approved by the Routt County Board of Commissioners during their Tuesday meeting, includes installing an unlocked gate along Routt County Road 34, about 2 miles from the Spring Creek trailhead at Amethyst Drive and East Maple Street.
The Spring Creek Trail follows a portion of that road but diverges about a quarter-mile from the site of the future gate. The gate will remain unlocked and have a sign attached that reads, “No access to public lands past this point,” as approved by the commissioners.
Other changes include adding a hikers-only trail as well as a bikers-only trail that will run adjacent to the Spring Creek Trail.
These are intended to replace an unsanctioned trail, commonly known as the “ditch trail,” that runs along private property and has created liability concerns among property owners.
For decades, those residents have passively allowed people to use the unsanctioned trail, which follows the Gardens Ditch, according to an agenda packet from the commissioners’ meeting.
But in the last three years, property owners have noticed a spike in user activity, particularly among people unfamiliar with the area who get lost and cause disturbances.
“This includes people walking off trail and bushwhacking until they find a residence in the area to ask for directions back to the Spring Creek Trail,” according to the agenda packet.
One such resident, Johnny Walker, attended the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. He said that as more people use the unsanctioned trail, he worries someone may get injured and hold him or other property owners responsible.
“There is just too much of a liability for us to be comfortable with it anymore,” he said.
City officials have similar concerns.
“If there were negative impacts to the ditch because of recreation, the city would be liable,” said Craig Robinson, the manager of Steamboat’s parks, open space and trails.
He presented the issue to the county commissioners at their meeting, urging them to install the gate as a way to encourage people to use the new, sanctioned trails when they are completed.
The two new trails, being built with funds from the 2A Accommodations Tax, will diverge from C.R. 34 slightly past where Spring Creek Trail splits from the road, about a quarter-mile before the site of the future gate.
As mapped, the hiking trail will follow a portion of the Gardens Ditch before reconnecting with the Spring Creek Trail to form a loop. Robinson expects work to begin on the trail June 24 after finalizing agreements with the property owners.
The downhill-only bike trail will begin at Dry Lake Campground. The upper section, which runs from the campground to the ditch, should be open to the public “as soon as possible” according to Robinson, perhaps as early as this weekend.
The lower section, which runs from the ditch to the intersection with the Spring Creek Trail, should open in the next three to four weeks.
Bikers will have to wait until the fall until they can ride the full length of the new trail, after crews construct a stable crossing over the ditch that will connect the upper and lower sections.
The intent of the trail projects, as Robinson explained, is to create a compromise between property owners and recreationists.
“We’re providing something that’s a suitable alternative rather than just closing the trail and giving them nothing,” he said.
The downhill-only bike trail also prevents collisions between bikers and hikers.
In building a gate along C.R. 34, the property owners hope to eventually vacate the section road that leads from the gate to their homes, which would essentially make it a private driveway instead of a county-owned road.
Doing so requires going through the vacation process with the Routt County Planning Department.
Asked about the prospect of vacating the county road, Corrigan said, “That’s a much bigger discussion I’m not ready to have.”