Bigger Rigs, More Snowmobilers Could Lead To Expanded Parking Lots On Rabbit Ears Pass


By Tom Ross - Steamboat Today

Steamboat Springs - The number of snowmobile enthusiasts who spent Saturday night in campers on Rabbit Ears Pass tells the story-the sport is becoming more and more popular here, and the parking lots on the pass weren't built to accommodate the size or number of the vehicles, trailers and recreational vehicles people use to pursue their passion for snowmobiling.

Steamboat Springs-based U.S. Forest Service recreation program manager Kent Foster said earlier this month that he visited the parking lots on Rabbit Ears on a Saturday, when weekend crowds were in full force.

"I counted 63 rigs on Saturday at the Muddy Creek parking lot and about 25 parties overnighting," Foster said. There were rigs with trailers, trucks with pop-up campers and RVs. At the East Summit lot, there were 40 vehicles on Saturday."

Now, officials with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest are asking recreationists, including snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers, to provide written comments with their ideas about improving parking facilities for winter recreation on Rabbit Ears.

The primary parking areas being scrutinized include the Dumont Lake lot, the Muddy Creek lot (developed for snowmobiles and out of sight in a stand of trees opposite Buffalo Park Road), the Old Columbine lot on the eastern descent of the pass, the East Summit lot and the Fox Curve lot, used more by skiers.

Foster said his agency also is considering whether the level of use at the West Summit lot-primarily Nordic skiing and snowshoeing-warrants the addition of toilet facilities.

Among the biggest changes being contemplated by the Forest Service is closing the East Summit lot, which is located on a partially blind curve where Denver-bound motorists on U.S. Highway 40 begin a winding descent to the junction with Colorado Highway 14. To compensate for the loss of parking spaces, other lots could be expanded.

The Muddy Creek lot was built in the mid-1990s with considerable support from Routt Powder Riders, the local snowmobiling club, Foster said. They receive funds from snowmobile registration fees to help pay for the costs of grooming an extensive trail system on Rabbit Ears.

The Muddy Creek lot differs from the Dumont and East Summit parking lots in that it is separated from the edge of the highway. It has the potential to be doubled or tripled in size to allow for snow storage and camping.

A change that has come to destination snowmobiling since the Muddy Creek lot first was built is the size of the rigs that enthusiasts bring to Rabbit Ears, Foster said.

"It was maybe designed for pickup trucks with two-place snowmobile trailers," Foster said. "Now we have all of these big covered Wells Cargo trailers" that carry four to six snowmobiles, he said. In the case of a pickup hauling a fifth-wheel camper and also hauling a snowmobile trailer behind it, the rigs have become unusually long. And there also are campers designed with internal toy haulers that allow snowmobiles to scoot inside a rear hatch.

Maneuvering all of the larger vehicles for efficient use of available parking is tricky, Foster said. In the case of the Dumont Lake lot, some drivers momentarily pull back onto the highway in the process of parking, adding to safety concerns.

Ultimately, Foster said, the Forest Service would like to cooperate with the Colorado Department of Transportation to create acceleration and deceleration lanes or perhaps even left-turn lanes at the entrances to expanded parking lots.

In addition to asking winter recreationists what suggestions they have and what improvements they would like to see, Forest Service officials will ask them if they would be willing to help pay for those improvements through day-use fees to park on Rabbit Ears.

Read the scoping letter at the Medicine Bow/Routt website.

Written comments may be submitted to Environmental Coordinator Tony Koch at USDA Forest Service, 925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487. Electronic comments can be sent to (RTF, PDF and Word document formats are accepted). In-person comments should be directed to Acting District Ranger Jack Lewis at the Hahn's Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District in Steamboat Springs.

Note: This is not a formal comment period required by a planned Forest Service action. Rather, it is an attempt to collect suggestions and ideas from the public to inform future planning.

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