Colorado is growing, and that’s leading to all kinds of tension across our state. This week, as part of our ongoing “Growing Pains” series, we’re exploring how Steamboat Springs is meeting the challenge.
We explore how a trail proposal has exposed deep divides within the city’s recreational community, examine how the sales-tax only revenue model is causing problems with local services, look at what the city is doing to address the lack of affordable housing, and hear differing opinions on how best to preserve history amid continued growth.
Proposed Trail Exposes Divides Between Steamboat Springs’ Recreational Groups
Steamboat Springs, like many of Colorado’s high country resort communities, is grappling with how it wants to grow.
The city itself has more than doubled in population since 1990. Seasonal tourist booms formerly contained to summer and winter have bled over into spring and fall. With its increasingly sought after outdoor amenities, like hot springs, camping, hiking, mountain biking and skiing, the town swells with visitors most weekends out of the year.
Steamboat’s relatively new status as a bustling year-round recreation destination is causing some in the community to call for a pause to the addition of new outdoor attractions to avoid having the mountains around town being loved to death. Meanwhile, others argue there is a way for increasing numbers of tourists and residents to coexist with the environment around them.
A proposal to develop new trails for locals and tourists alike has crystallized those views, and exposed divides among the city’s recreational groups. What started as a rallying cry for more trails has shifted to a heated debate about the city’s future, and forced the community to ask:
Like many fire departments in Colorado, the Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue is responsible for covering an ever-growing population.
The amount of people living and working in its service area has ballooned from around 5,000 people in 1980 to more than 12,000 today — not including the thousands of tourists that flock to the ski slopes in the winter and, increasingly, during the summer to the Yampa River and downtown’s many restaurants and shops.
That’s led to a jump in the number of calls to the department each year. In 2005, the first year the department collected data after its conversion from an all-volunteer to a paid staff, it received 1,212 calls. Last year, it got 2,237.
In response, the city is asking voters to do something they haven’t done in 40 years. In August, the city council voted to put a local 2-mill property tax question on the November ballot. If passed, it would increase the fire department’s budget by an estimated $1.5 million per year. It would also be the first time the city has collected property taxes since 1979.
A house in Steamboat Springs is expensive. A single-family home can be anywhere from $600,000 to over $1 million — and for most low and middle-income residents, that’s just not in the budget.
Bob and Leslie Gumbrecht moved to Steamboat Springs nearly 15 years ago. But because of high home prices, they now live about 30 minutes down the road in Hayden.
Their youngest, 8-year-old Max, still goes to school in Steamboat. Their other son, 11-year-old Owen, just started middle school in Hayden. Bob and Leslie are both professors at Colorado Mountain College.
When they first moved to Steamboat, they rented, but that just wasn’t going to work for their growing family.
Steamboat Springs prides itself not only on its world-renowned ski slopes, but for its agricultural and ranching roots. But it hasn’t always been able to hold on to that history.
At the Tread of the Pioneers Museum, curator Katie Adams walked through the latest exhibit.
“Steamboat Springs was founded in 1875 by the Crawford family and had really modest beginnings,” Adams said.
In “This Place Matters” there are two walls of photos. One highlights locations around town still in existence. The other pays tribute to those that are not.
“We weren’t the product of a boom town of mining or minerals or things like that that maybe some of our other Colorado towns are well known for,” Adams said. “We were just kind of people getting together to make a community using whatever they could. In the construction preservation world, we call it ‘cowboy construction.’”
The houses are smaller and modest. Many feature river rock cobble foundations. Some were built by Karl Hovelsen, a ski pioneer who brought ski jumping to Steamboat Springs. His signature can still be found in the mortar of the foundations.
But this exhibit isn’t just about expressing pride in the community. It’s part of a larger effort to save historical sites.