Multi-agency conservation effort brings stretch of Yampa River south of Steamboat into public domain | CraigDailyPress.com

Multi-agency conservation effort brings stretch of Yampa River south of Steamboat into public domain

Tom Ross

— Public access to one of the most productive trout fishing stretches along the Yampa River south of Steamboat Springs was enhanced this week with the acquisition by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service of 45 acres of private property in upper Pleasant Valley known as the Hubbard Summer Place.

The $1.25 million purchase helped to realize an 18-year-old goal of the local Yampa River System Legacy Project Partnership. The conservation organization Western Rivers Conservancy, based in Portland, Oregon, facilitated the acquisition by making an intermediate purchase of the private land in order to secure it until the federal agencies could go through their own approval process.

The BLM contributed $1 million to this week's transaction, and the USFS contributed $250,000.

The site is about 12 miles south of Steamboat Springs and downstream from a notable tailwater fishery just below Lake Stagecoach Dam. Although it is a small piece of land, public land managers said its significance is much greater. The Hubbard Summer Place borders the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area on the east and links the existing Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area upstream and a BLM parcel straddling the river farther downstream.

Tim Wilson, associate field manager for the BLM's Little Snake Field Office in Craig, signaled that the acquisition's ability to connect two other parcels of public land could lead to fish habitat improvement projects in the broader stretch of the river.

"This property is extremely important, both from a conservation perspective and as a place where people can fish, hunt and hike," Wilson said in a press release. "Now that it is publicly owned, we can manage it for its valuable fish and wildlife habitat."

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Efforts to conserve the Hubbard property date back to 1995 with the completion of the Routt County Sarvis Creek Area Plan. Conservation efforts gained momentum in 2011 when the Yampa River Legacy Partnership sought inclusion of the Hubbard parcel in the America's Great Outdoors initiative.

Ben Beall, chairman of the Legacy Project Partnership, said the local Yampa Valley Flyfishers helped make his group aware of the desirability of the Hubbard Summer Place.

"What's great about this is that it's adjacent to the wilderness area," Beall said. "This is an example of what we can do in the Yampa Valley to further the land use vision of Routt County."

He added that the Hubbard property recently had been under contract to a private buyer, but that sale was not completed.

Little Snake Field Manager Wendy Reynolds said the involvement of the Legacy Project on the local level was helpful in getting it approved.

"It's that support in the community that puts us in a much more competitive standing to acquire these properties," Reynolds said.

This week's purchase marks the second time in just more than two years that Western Rivers has enabled expansion of public lands along the Yampa.

In 2012, Western Rivers acquired a 920-acre ranch at the entrance to Cross Mountain Canyon in Moffat County, including 2.5 miles of the river, in order to transfer the ranch to the BLM. Cross Mountain not only comprises a vast BLM wilderness study area, but the canyon contains one of the most challenging one-day whitewater floats in Colorado.

Reynolds said that in addition to its natural attributes, the Hubbard Summer Place includes a historic cabin, which partially has been restored and will be the subject of a future management plan.

She added that while the Hubbard Place is now open to the public, access to the general area is limited in practical terms by the seasonal closure of Routt County Road 18 to snowmobilers and skiers. A locked gate is in place at the entrance to the property to prevent snowmobiles from entering.

"The public can access it," Reynolds said. “We just want people to be respectful to the riparian areas" along the river.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1