South Howelsen Hill Recreation Area and Open Space Acquisition

In December 2008, the City of Steamboat Springs acquired 35 acres straddling the Yampa River on the south side of Emerald Mountain, near Steamboat Springs.  Yampa Valley Land Trust, Routt County, the City of Steamboat Springs and Great Outdoors Colorado combined efforts to preserve this open-space for public recreation, including biking, hiking, and wildlife viewing and fishing from both sides of the Yampa River.

Howelsen Hill Recreation AreaThe property was placed in a conservation easement held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust.  The purchase from the Biedenharns was aided by $275,000 from Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program (PDR) and a $400,000 open-space grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).  The City of Steamboat Springs provided $625,000.


“The Biedenharn property is an important addition to ongoing conservation efforts in the Yampa Valley,” Lise Aangeenbrug, GOCO’s acting director, said in a written statement.  “This project builds on open space, outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities in Routt County.”


The parcel includes a small portion of the public Yampa River Core Trail – inadvertently built on the Biedenharn’s private property because of land survey errors (not an unusual occurrence in this area once defined and legally described by rods and chains).  Although the City’s purchase resolved that issue, City Council President Loui Antonucci said it is “not as important as protecting the property for the use of the people of Routt County.”  This includes a connecting access link that provided legal access to the Yampa River and the expansion of the Howelsen Hill soft-surfaced, trail system on the upland portions of the property that extends mountain biking, running, hiking and Nordic trails.


“Since 1990, the City has undertaken a bold initiative to protect the Yampa River throughout our urbanizing area, to protect Emerald Mountain and to provide appropriate public access and outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors,” Antonucci wrote.  “Even in this economically constrained time, the acquisition of the Biedenharn property is an important piece of this visionary project.”


“It will expand the Emerald Mountain parcel with both banks of the Yampa River,” Antonucci added.


“This City Council represents visionary leadership in protecting the most valuable assets in our community – our natural resources” remarked Susan Dorsey, Executive Director of Yampa Valley Land Trust.


Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said community surveys reveal a local consensus for more open space and an expansion of trail networks.  Protection of open land resources that include important wildlife habitat and public recreational opportunities proximate to the City has been identified as the top community priority in survey after survey.


“Yampa Valley Land Trust is the only non-profit working in Northwest Colorado that meets the identified top community priorities of protecting open spaces, wildlife habitats and scenic vistas along with creating new public access opportunities for our community” Dorsey said.  “We are so appreciative for all of the support from YVLT’s donors that make these incredible projects a reality.”


Wendy Dubord added, “This is a great partnership to provide that (public recreation and open space protection) for our citizens,” she said.


“If you don’t do it, it’s gone,” County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush noted.


Ron Roundtree, chairman of the PDR advisory board, noted that the property is very visible and provides scenic vistas.


“It’s a rare opportunity to put county lands into a preservation process that also affords public access,” Roundtree said, noting that many PDR projects are on private property; this was the fourth PDR project involving city-owned property. “It’s no secret that it’s the citizens of Steamboat Springs that carry the votes that carry the program.”


As of December 2008, the Routt County’s PDR program completed 21 projects protecting 11,795 acres at a total cost of $5,369,119, or $455 an acre.  The PDR program is funded by a 1.5 mill property tax re-approved in 2006, nine years after the program first was approved for an initial 10-year period.  The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years.  Voters exempted the program from the state’s revenue growth limitations. Its tax revenues increased 34 percent in 2007, from $1.2 million to $1.6 million in 2008.


For this same 2008 time period, YVLT, with the financial support of its donors, conserved over 45,000 acres of scenic open lands and critical wildlife habitat, along with transactions on properties that provide new public access to trails, open spaces and the Yampa River for low-impact recreational uses such as fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, equestrian uses and wildlife watching.  YVLT also played a key role in 2012’s Emerald Mountain Land Exchange, chairing the real estate transaction committee.  The Exchange, a nearly 14-year process, brought to the community an additional 4,100 acres of land now open to public access for low impact recreation.  “Stay tuned,” Dorsey said. “YVLT has more projects of this nature in the works – so I invite you to join Yampa Valley Land Trust and help save the very best of what Northwest Colorado and the Yampa Valley has to offer.”