Steamboat Springs Local U.S. Forest Service officials say a 120-acre land donation in northern Routt County provides one more piece in the puzzle of effective land and wildlife management in California Park.
The donated parcel is in a valley surrounded by Forest Service and state lands and includes about 14 acres of wetlands along the Armstrong and Elkhead creeks, where native cutthroat trout can be found.
Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the significance of the donation is that it protects the California Park Special Interest Area from private development that could impact view corridors as well as wildlife habitat. The California Park Special Interest Area was designated in 1997 because of its historical and biological value. The area is home to prehistoric archaeological finds, pioneer homesteads and cabins, and animal species including boreal toads, cutthroat trout, Columbia sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, greater sandhill cranes, mountain suckers and northern leopard frogs. California Park is popular with hunters because of its concentration of big-game animals like elk.
Voos said the private landowners had been working with the Forest Service to either sell or exchange their land. Ultimately, they decided simply to donate it. Voos said the landowners’ names are being withheld at their request.
“Any sort of land exchanges are part of our basic program of work,” Voos said. “We’re always looking at different inholdings within the forest to see if we can consolidate or swap. This is one we’ve had our eye on for awhile.”
Because the acquisition of the 120-acre parcel provides connectivity between existing tracts of public lands in California Park, the Forest Service can now manage land and wildlife without interruption throughout the area, Voos said.
California Park is an approximately 25,000-acre area north of Hayden and west of Steamboat Lake. The area includes between 12,000 and 15,000 acres of open range that historically has provided grazing for sheep and cattle herds. California Park is most commonly accessed by Routt County Road 80 out of Hayden.