Carving a New Route for Colorado’s Stagecoach
1,000 acres secured and enhanced for public access
Hunting is woven into the autumn fabric of Colorado’s Upper Yampa Valley. Swing sets and barn rafters become de facto meatpoles while blaze orange and camo become the default town attire. Stores, cafes and bars double as antler exhibits to greet the influx of hunters that come for the elk and mule deer herds roaming hundreds of thousands of acres of public land that wreath the valley.
Those willing to invest some boot leather find a dreamland of pocket meadows tucked in the aspens and lodgepoles that rock and roll up to the Flat Tops and Gore ranges beyond.
But access isn’t always simple.
Take Stagecoach. A short-lived ski resort brought a tide of condos to this quiet bend in the Yampa River 20 miles upstream of Steamboat Springs before going bust in 1974. Then a dam corralled the Yampa into an 800-acre reservoir 15 year later, spawning Stagecoach State Park, which now attracts as many as 200,000 visitors annually. To the north it borders the Adams State Wildlife Area, created as part of the dam mitigation to protect hundreds of elk and deer that winter above its shorelines. Beyond that, though, historic ranches have given way to a march of trophy homes and No Trespassing signs.
Hunters have been able to park above Stagecoach’s neighborhoods to access 1,000 acres of public land on Woodchuck Hill cared for by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s a gorgeous ridge of aspen and a backdoor into the 40,000-acre Sarvis Creek Wilderness.
But some homeowners got nervous about having hunters so close. The neighborhood association hired surveyors who found a few feet of private ground wedged between public road and public land. A fence went up and Woodchuck Hill was suddenly cut off.
BLM managers offered to purchase access rights, but that bore no fruit. So together with state park rangers, they identified a section of the state park that climbs from the dam to Woodchuck. A switchbacked connector branching off an existing shoreline trail would restore access, an idea the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District, which owns the reservoir, supported.
Fueled by a $50,000 state trail grant and a $40,000 grant from RMEF, managers broke ground last year. The trail opened by fall.
“People latched onto it immediately,” says Andrew Dean, senior park ranger who helped lead the effort. “Hikers and mountain bikers love the fantastic views of the Sarvis Creek Wilderness, the Flat Tops and everything in between. And hunters are delighted. I spoke to a gentleman who has hunted that BLM parcel with his family for 30 years. He was totally thrilled to have access once again.”