Winter recreation

Cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling are just some of the winter activities Craig offers cold-weather enthusiasts.

From November through early spring, activities abound in Moffat County, said Ned Miller, sportsman information specialist for the Craig Chamber of Commerce.

"There's a lot of activity," Miller said.

The Moffat County Parks and Recreation Department grooms about 1 1/2 miles of trail in Loudy-Simpson Park south of Craig and two miles of trail at Yampa Valley Golf Course, said Steve Grandbouche, Craig's parks and recreation director.

The Parks and Recreation Department grooms the trails after enough snow falls, and crews keep them groomed depending on the snowfall.

The ice rink at Loudy-Simpson Park opens in late October and stays open until late March. Hours are 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Skate rentals are available and the entire rink can be rented, as well. The Craig Downtown Business Association hosts its annual Art Walk around Valentine's Day. Local artists display their work in the downtown shops. Colorado Northwestern Community College displays the work of its pottery students at The Center of Craig. You can buy a mug or bowl and get it filled with the soup before going back out to the chilly night.

The western part of Moffat County sees less snow than the east, and in early May, mountain bikers start making the 90-mile trip to Browns Park Wildlife Refuge to hit some trails near the historic swinging bridge off Colorado Highway 318, Miller said.

Snowmobiler's paradise

There are as many as 2,000 snow machines in the Yampa Valley, Miller estimated, making snowmobiling one of the area's most popular sports.

The Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club grooms trails in the Black Mountain area as soon as 18 inches of snow fall at the boundary of the Routt National Forest. During years with heavy snows, Miller said he's ridden his snowmobile as late as the end of June.

The club maintains 105 miles of groomed trails in the Routt National Forest north of Craig and south into the Flattops Wilderness Area.

The Craig Snowmobile System is in the Bears Ears District of Routt National Forest in Northwest Colorado. Trailheads of maintained trails leading into the Black Mountain and California Park areas of the Elkhead Mountain Range are about 13 miles north of Craig on Colo-rado Highway 13. A southern segment leading to the Beaver Flattops and the Baldy Mountain areas is about 15 miles south of Craig on Colo. 13.

Trail elevations range from about 7,000 feet to more than 10,000 feet with snow depths of 4 to 10 feet from late November through April. The area has a wide variety of terrain and scenery, including steep mountains, stands of spruce, fir and aspen trees and scenic overlooks of the Yampa Valley.

At lower elevations, trails pass through many large, open parks and meadows and over gently rolling hills. Most wildlife lives below 6,000 feet elevation during the winter.

About 85 miles of trails are maintained on county and forest roads, with an additional five miles of marked-only trails on forest routes.

Trails are well-marked and cleared, and signs marking snowmobilers' location stand at all trail intersections for rider reassurance.

The trail numbers indicate the relative degree of difficulty. No. 1 trails are the easiest. The most difficult trails are identified in red. However, changing weather conditions such as heavy and sudden snowfall, wind and drifting snow can temporarily increase the difficulty of any trail, and the snowmobile club urges all riders to constantly exercise caution when riding mountain terrain.

Guided tours also are available. More information can be obtained from the snowmobile club at P.O. Box 3, Craig, CO 81626.

Ice fishing popular

Just because winter arrives doesn't mean the fishing has to end.

Ice fishing is one of Northwest Colorado's budding recreational activities.

"It's very popular," said Nick Kamzalow, ice fisherman and owner of Craig's Outdoor Connections. "It's not quite as popular as summer fishing, but I can tell by sales of equipment that it's catching on."

Ice fisherman Craig Conrad said the sport is exhilarating and a good way to enjoy the serenity of winter.

"If you're dressed appropriately, you don't get cold," he said. "We have such sunny winters here that sometimes you can wear a T-shirt out there on the ice."

Conrad, who reports heading out to an ice fishing excursion each weekend, reportedly caught the largest northern pike in Northwestern Colorado. A photo of the 47-inch, 25-pound fish earned Conrad first place in a Grand Junction contest and the distinction for the largest fish of its species caught here.

Safe ice fishing requires 4 to 12 inches of ice if it is layered, or what fishermen refer to as "rotten" ice. Otherwise, between two to eight inches of solid ice is sufficient for fishing.

Popular frozen fishing destinations include Steamboat Lake, Stagecoach Reservoir, Avery Lake, Trapper Lake and Elkhead Reservoir, which is undergoing an expansion project and is closed for recreation.

Equipment needed for ice fishing may vary from regular fishing, Kamzalow said. Anglers need to obtain a license and may want to use a shorter rod that is between 24 and 32 inches.

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