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

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Take in views of Bluffs Loop on Emerald Mountain without the climb. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

After four months of discussion, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission has unanimously approved a set of regulations for commercial programs and events on Emerald Mountain. The commissioners made the decision at a meeting on Thursday, January 13.

Because the mountain’s trails are funded by city taxpayers, commissioners have begun the discussion to ensure those who pay for the trails have unimpeded access. The stewards also wanted to limit any trail degradation, which many believe happens after a series of back-to-back big events or programs.

“The question is how do you minimize impacts on the public and on the natural environment,” said Craig Robinson, manager of Steamboat Parks, Open Spaces and Trails. “We want to make sure we don’t negatively impact the public’s ability to use these trails.”



The commissioners have established different rules for events, programs, lessons and tours that now await approval from city council.

Events



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

Dates, times and course information should also be posted at the trailhead at least one week prior to an event.

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

“I think generally speaking, not using the trails at inappropriate times or inappropriately is covered,” said Angela Cosby, director of parks and recreation.

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

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

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

Programs

Programs – defined as recurring uses of the trails, while Events are one-time uses – must follow all the same protocols as Events, but have a maximum group recommendation of 10 participants for each instructor.

Groups should also stagger start times, avoid peak use days and times, and spread groups out on trails.

Since the Pedalless Bike Path (NPR) is one of the busiest and only bike-specific paths in the city, the commissioners voted to limit groups to only one descent on the NPR path per day. If groups want more use, they can pay an additional $3.75 per run, an impact fee intended to offset the city’s trail maintenance costs.

“It was in very rough shape last summer, so I fully understand the expense and planning involved in maintaining this trail,” Commissioner Elizabeth Diamond said.

Riders are still free to ride NPR as many times as they wish, but programs will be limited to once per day.

Still, Diamond and other commissioners felt that limiting NPR could increase user disputes on other trails, and they wanted to review the rule after next summer.

“The trail is still in poor condition in mid-summer, if not before mid-summer,” said commissioner Brent Demmit. “Right now, with the trail still in pretty bad shape, I would vote to keep it at one.”

Courses and visits

From May 1 to October 31, City staff may approve up to two run or walk outfitters and up to two bike outfitters.

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

Outfitters must also pay an annual fee of $100.

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

Each outfitter is licensed for a maximum of one group per day, with a maximum of 200 people in a six-month season.

Authorized daily uses cannot exceed four hours. Outfitters are not permitted to operate on days when major events are taking place on Emerald.

The city council will now have to approve two readings of these rules before they are implemented.

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