Land Conservation and Public Access Converge to Establish World-Class Singletrack Trail Network on Emerald Mountain
Despite lingering snow showers, the spring melt is in full swing in the Yampa Valley. Now that winter operations have ceased at Steamboat Ski Resort, mountain bike enthusiasts are itching to get their tires back in the dirt at Emerald Mountain – a beloved community resource under conservation easement held by YVLT!
While Steamboat Springs is dubbed “Ski Town USA” and renowned for its ultra-light powder snow, the outdoor-centric community has recently cultivated a new moniker: “Bike Town USA.” Steamboat features some of the premier mountain biking in Colorado, thanks in part to the extensive trial network at Emerald Mountain and Howelsen Hill. Known by many as the town’s “crown jewel,” the 30+ world-class singletrack trails at Emerald Mountain are just a few pedal strokes away from downtown, weaving through thick aspen groves and lush wildflower meadows with sweeping views of the Yampa River Valley. Few communities are fortunate enough to have such an accessible trail system that is both open to the public and free of charge. This is why many people – this author included – moved to Steamboat Springs for the exceptional skiing but ultimately grew to favor its spectacular summers.
YVLT played an instrumental role along with other community leaders in expanding public access at Emerald Mountain, culminating in 2011 when the City of Steamboat Springs (with financial support from Great Outdoors Colorado) purchased 586 acres from a private landowner and opened it for public recreation. The land was already under conservation easement with YVLT, which brought down the acquisition price for COSS and helped make it an affordable venture for the City amid the nationwide recession. [Read more about the deal here.] This purchase complemented the nearly 4,000 acres of Emerald Mountain under BLM ownership and also open to the public!
The partnership between COSS and YVLT has opened the door to exciting opportunities at Emerald Mountain Park, a conservation project striking a delicate balance between ecological protection and public recreation. At the time of the land purchase, there were only about nine miles of established trails on Emerald Mountain / Howelsen Hill; now there are over 24 on both the front and backside of the mountain (owned by the Bureau of Land Management), thanks to the hard work of Marc and Gretchen Sehler, Routt County Riders and other trail builders in the community. The smooth, flowy singletrack trails that have been refined over time are a testament to the hard work that was done both on the ground and conceptually in the office. Many argue that this is the “greatest city-owned park in the world,” and the number of user visits bring merit to that claim. It is estimated that over 2,000 people enjoy the Emerald Mountain trail system every year.
The heavily-used site is carefully managed to preserve its conservation values and safeguard an important forest ecosystem, which provides habitat for a number of plants and animals, including elk winter range and calving grounds. Conservation projects and natural areas such as this are among the reasons why Steamboat Springs has such an abundance of wildlife, despite its semi-urban setting. The overwhelming success of this project demonstrates that land conservation and outdoor recreation are not incompatible goals. With thoughtful stewardship and ecosystem awareness, these aims can go hand-in-hand.
Make sure you are among the thousands who enjoy this amazing resource in 2016! Pump up your tires, inspect the derailleur, tighten the bolts and screws, and lubricate the chain – mountain bike season is right around the corner. Always remember to respect the trails and other users, and please stay off the trails when they are wet. Many volunteers and members of the community work hard to keep these trails in great shape!
YVLT looks forward to bringing more public access opportunities to Northwest Colorado in the near future. These important projects wouldn’t be possible without your support!
Donate today and we will continue to connect our community to land conservation.