Forest Service delays building begin on Mad Rabbit trails venture

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A row of aspens has turned pale yellow on US Highway 40 at Rabbit Ears Pass. A drive over the pass should offer views of intermittent patches of fall colors that continue to brighten.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The US Forest Service has delayed a possible start of construction on the Mad Rabbit Trails project, a series of trails connecting Mad Creek to Rabbit Ears Pass.

Forest Service Recreation Specialist Brendan Kelly told the 2A Trails Accommodation Tax Committee – made up of Steamboat Springs City officials, Steamboat Chamber officials, and community members – that the Forest Service needed to hire a permanent ranger for the project. The ranger is from the Tahoe National Forest and starts March 1st.

“We can’t really offer a construction and development schedule until we have a permanent ranger,” said Kelly.

Before construction can begin, the forest service must publish a draft environmental assessment, which has a public comment period of 30 days and an objection period of 45 days. Kelly said the Forest Service estimates that a first draft will be ready in May and if all goes smoothly within the comment and objection deadlines, the assessment will be completed in August and the foundation stone laid in 2022.

In addition to delaying the environmental review, Kelly said the Forest Service has now partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure that wildlife in the area is not harmed by the construction of trails and human use of the areas.

Larry Desjardin, president of Keep Routt Wild, a wildlife nonprofit, said parks and wildlife joining the project are “a big deal”.

“I wish it was a long time ago,” said Desjardin. “I think that can be a lot more positive as wildlife can be included in the creation of the plan.”

Desjardin said while the delay may be frustrating for some, he hopes the forest service will use this as an opportunity to reconsider the location of certain trails using new digital elk calf maps. Desjardin hopes the Forest Service will place more trails south of US Highway 40 than north to minimize disruption to the moose.

“I think this can be a lot more positive as it allows wildlife to be included in the creation of the plan,” Desjardin said.

The Housing Tax Committee was established by a resolution of the Steamboat City Council and will serve as an advisory committee for 10 years as approved under the 2A Electoral Act. Funding was approved in 2013 and will end in 2023. Currently, funding from the measure has to be spent on a specific list of avenues, although some members of the committee expressed support for asking voters to approve funding for another location.

“This is a very long, deliberate process that will be required to get the mad rabbit approved,” said Jason Landers, a member of the entire committee. “Maybe we can open the book again and ask the city if they need more core trails or Howelsen needs new trails.”

Winnie DelliQuadri, director of urban projects and intergovernmental services on the committee, stressed that such a move would have to be approved by the city’s voters, which could take even longer than waiting for the forest service to complete its assessment.