Infrastructure work should kick off this fall for 27-acre Bear River Park

This article originally appeared in Steamboat Pilot & Today on June 19, 2024.

The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department has finalized the design for major upgrades planned for the 27-acre Bear River Park with Norris Design, and $7 million in infrastructure work should kick off this fall.

Matthew Barnard, development manager for the city parks department, presented to the Routt Recreation and Conservation Roundtable meeting Thursday showing the final proposal developed through the past year with help from public input, a steering committee and designers.

“We want you to get the river feel and river vibe every time you come into the park,” Barnard said.

The construction project located off of Lagoon Court on the west side of the city will be phased for completion in 2027 at the earliest and is funding dependent. More than 18 acres will be developed with park features, and less than nine acres on the west side will remain as natural open space and wetlands.

“We are super excited to get started with construction,” Barnard said. “I feel like the west end has been underserved.”

Barnard said the most common question he receives at this point in the multi-phase project is when will the boat ramp be open for use. The new boat launch will be constructed in 2025 where the pedestrian sidewalk now meets the Yampa River near the existing Bear River Skatepark. The city received an $80,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant in 2023 to help with the boat ramp.

The park design includes a full-sized basketball court, three sand volleyball courts, additional parking spaces with 20 boat trailer parking spots, bird watching station, large stone steps to the river, and an expanded and improved concrete skate park. Other features include two age-divided playgrounds separated by a shaded picnic pavilion, an informal multi-purpose play field, and improvements to the bike dirt track with a skills course that will be progressional.

The plan calls for dark sky compliant outdoor lighting for the basketball and volleyball courts and enlarged skatepark.

Barnard said input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition led to some changes to the more natural west side of the design. A proposed perimeter-style walking trail was removed and replaced with one bird-watching station that is pulled further back from the existing wetlands. Barnard said several nesting sites for greater sandhill cranes have been documented in the wetlands. Experts noted that a trail would attract dog walkers and would cause too great of an impact to wildlife and birds.

The parking area at the existing skate park will be moved from the middle of the overall parcel to the periphery, Barnard said, and a picnic area will be added to the middle of the park.

Currently the city is accepting some 14,000 cubic yards of clean fill dirt to balance the topography of the site. That includes fill dirt needed for six acres on the eastern end, which was the site of a previous city water treatment plant, according to Barnard. That lower lying land also has asphalt remnants buried there, so the city needs to add ample fill dirt on top.

Barnard said the city previously committed $7 million to the initial infrastructure phase that will be completed in 2025. However, since that funding was committed two years ago, inflation may likely impact project bids, so the $7 million could be short.

The infrastructure work will include construction of roads, with two new negotiated emergency access roads, sidewalks and pad sites for the future park features.

The next phase scheduled for 2026, which is currently unfunded, would include installation of the sports courts, playgrounds and multi-purpose field. The last phase would be landscaping in 2027, depending on funding.

“None of the park amenities are funded yet; we will be going for some GOCO grants,” Barnard said.

He said the skate park and bike park will remain open during infrastructure work in 2025, but the access road may have some temporary closures at times.