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> News & Community Info > News Releases > Capacity Management at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space Prompts New Trail and Expanded Parking Lot

News Release

Capacity Management at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space Prompts New Trail and Expanded Parking Lot

Department: Natural Resources
Release Date: Oct 16, 2013

Contact Information:

Travis Rollins, Open Lands Operations Manager (970) 498-5622, trollins@larimer.org

Photo: Mark Yoder


Horsetooth Mountain Open Space is one of Larimer County’s most popular hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding destinations. Popularity is so high that during busy summer days and weekends throughout the year, parking lots become full and Larimer County Rangers turn visitors away. Plans for a new trail from the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space lower trailhead (Soderberg Trailhead) and reconfiguration of the Blue Sky Trailhead will help spread visitors across the open space and provide additional parking.
“The parking situation at Horsetooth is something we’ve been monitoring for years,” said Travis Rollins, Larimer County’s Open Space Operations Manager. “This open space, in addition to other open spaces with close proximity to Fort Collins and Loveland get more popular each year.”  Data collected by Larimer County show that Horsetooth Mountain Open Space has received more than 80,000 visitors from January 1 - October 1 and another 20,000 are expected by the end of the year.   
Increased visitation has led to few trail conflicts or natural resource impacts, however, parking and public safety along County Road 38E have become concerns. The upper trailhead is the most common start for the popular Horsetooth Falls and Horsetooth Rock hikes and when this lot is full, visitors occasionally park in the County Road 38E right-of-way. “Parking along 38E can be dangerous; there is no dedicated trail here and visitors either walk along the traffic lane or scramble up the hillside,” said Mr. Rollins. “Public safety is our highest priority and the improvements proposed at Horsetooth are designed to expand access while improving safety and protecting sensitive natural and cultural resources.”  
Additional measures to improve safety and recreation access are under consideration, including a parking lot web cam and mobile phone applications. Larimer County will present the proposed improvements and take public input at a meeting scheduled on Monday, October 28, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Fort Collins Harmony Library, Community Room, located at 4616 South Shields Street.
To learn more about Larimer County’s parks and open spaces,
visit our website at www.larimer.org/naturalresources
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Comments: (8)

1. Posted by: Resident on Oct 28, 2013 9:02 AM

I received a letter about this proposal, I am a resident of the neighborhood near the Soderburg Parking lot. The idea of a new trail from Swam Johnson to Stout is a bad one. Really bad for many reasons. 1. The proposed route goes through a wildlife corridor that Coyotes, deer, bears, and all others use to escape all the people. You will be ruining their habitat, and a coyote den. 2. You will also be ruining what you were hired to protect, the beauty of the open space. The hillside will be forever scarred by another overused trail. 3. You are supposed to be protecting the open space, not accommodating every Tom Dick and Harry that wants to drive up and hike. If the lots are full, the trails are full, too bad. Now you propose to help trail overcrowding by adding more parking spaces? Who is making these decisions? The Soderburg Lot is already full on weekends, and this new trail would do nothing but further destroy what you have been paid to protect. You all should be fired.

2. Posted by: Dixoncove on Oct 28, 2013 1:16 PM

I too am a resident of the neighborhood that will be affected by this project. My neighbor does not speak for all of us when he says you should all be fired. I personally am glad to be able to provide input. However, many of us have concerns about how much more traffic we will get if this trail goes in. We already get people parking in our neighborhood to illegally access the trails. We maintain our roads, not the County. Folks not wanting to pay for legal access leave behind trash and walk on areas not designated for foot traffic. More traffic on the trails will also mean more off-leash dogs, and we're hoping the County will devote more resources to enforcing these issues. These trails are gorgeous, and we want to keep them enjoyable by everyone. We also don't want more people to use our roads to avoid paying the access fee that allows the County the resources to keep the trails gorgeous and enjoyable by everyone!

3. Posted by: OpenSpaceRes on Oct 28, 2013 6:06 PM

I am also a resident near Soderberg Open Space, but I don't share the sentiments of "Resident" and think you all do a good job managing the park and appreciate the opportunity for feedback. However, I have noticed a troubling trend lately. Larimer County has been engaging in significant park expansion for the last several years, and not taken into consideration the surrounding roads or areas. The camping areas have already been expanded greatly increasing the large boat and RV traffic which is competing with the cyclists and runners and motorcyclists. 38e just can't support any more traffic. I was driving home 10/27, and I can tell you personally that it was not safe. This is supported by the fact that the road was closed several times this year due to serious accidents. Also the sheriff has had to increase dui check points during the summer months because the additional park attendees like to drink and drive. Shoreline drive was even worse with motorists, cyclist, campers, runners and motorcyclists sharing a very narrow road. I just can't imagine anymore traffic on that road.

Frankly, the park is now full on the weekends and I don't think expansion is justified. I can tell you the lower parking area is already full almost every Saturday and Sunday, so directing more traffic to that lot is not going to address the issue.The lot was 100% full on 10/27. I know this because I can see the lot from my house. So, adding additional trails at the lower lot, and directing additional traffic there only exacerbates the problem. And for environmental impact, I'm definitely opposed to any asphalt trail of any kind in the park anywhere.

Also, our private neighborhood already suffers the consequences of park expansion. I constantly have to ask people to leave when I see them park on our property. Now people are becoming belligerent, when asked to leave and I worry about the kids with the increased traffic you will bring. Not to mention that we have to pay to maintain the road ourselves at a huge expense. This happens despite numerous signs informing visitors they are entering private property. And now, residents are starting to request our HOA install a gated system at even more expense due to trespassers that litter and park illegally. Larimer County does not help us with any of these expenses.

I suggest that you leave the parking lots the way they are and leverage technology to inform people the parks are full with additional signage at Harmony and 38e. This would prevent people from wasting their time driving up and hopefully reduce congestion on 38e. I like the idea of web cams so people can check the lot situation, but also would suggest a dedicated web site that gives the status of the lots. Also, leveraging a web based reservation system could help with logistics and bring in additional revenue to the park. Please don't build more trails from a parking lot that is already full. Don' expand the upper parking lot, and bring increased traffic to an already overburdened public and PRIVATE road system.

We need to face the fact that the front range population has exploded, and not everyone can visit the parks at the same time. People will have to plan better. The parks are first come first serve and the current traffic load in the surrounding areas can't support the additional load. Soderberg Open space was purchased and should be used just as it's named, for OPEN SPACE. I hope Larimer Count y can recognize this, and take actions to reduce the traffic load and leverage logistics to better regulate use of the park, rather than expanding it to the point that no one can enjoy it.

4. Posted by: Resident on Oct 28, 2013 8:28 PM

Sorry, perhaps I let out too much frustration. I think overall you guys do a good job balancing the needs of the public and the needs of the land and wildlife. Our park system is beautiful and a true asset to our community. However over the last few years, it seems like the balance is obviously tipping towards more parking lots, more trails, more horses, more trail damage etc. If that is what you want, then as a taxpayer I would like to see other folks in your positions. Folks who will put more emphasis on preserving our lands for everyone's benefit, rather than try to accommodate every visitor at all times just to maximize revenue. I think the area has enough parking lots, and enough trails.

5. Posted by: CoNoRes on Oct 29, 2013 8:17 AM

I am a resident of the Continental North Subdivision, also someone who spends a lot of time out in the park and on the trails. Like the vast majority of residents up here, I have some concerns about the planned changes to Horsetooth Mountain Park.

I am not against additional trails, whatsoever. More trails in responsible areas equals more visitors equals more revenue equals a healthier population coupled with a better appreciation for our parks system. I do think directing more citizens to park at the lower lot is a mistake for the park and will have an extremely negative impact on my subdivision, all while not accomplishing the stated goal of increasing access to the upper portion of the park. If there is a possibility of expansion further to the south, that seems like the most logical solution for all. The Soderburg lot is almost always at full capacity on the weekends, Blue Sky seems to not be. Why not focus moving cars to that location, even if the initial logistics are more complex? To me, at least, that seems to be the best long term solution for the park.

Our little community is constantly dealing with people illegally parking all over the sides of our privately maintained roads to enter the park free of charge. This has increased at an alarming rate and I find it difficult to ask folks to please leave, making the only option calling them into the Sheriff since as private citizens, I don't think it is safe nor our responsibility to enforce the park's rules. This extra traffic is having a major impact on our privately maintain roads, costing us significant funds to fix the sides of the chip seal that isn't meant to be driven on, let alone act as a parking lot. It also, and more importantly, has become a major safety issue for the small children of the community with the unaware, and often speeding, vehicles using our community as their access point to the park. Funneling more and more people to Soderburg is only going to cause the level of these issues to increase for us.

If these changes, as proposed, are going to be pushed through despite our concerns, I ask that the park consider using some additional resources to keep our area safe and our privately maintained roads in good condition by enforcing the rules and prevent park goers from sneaking in from Continental North and using our streets as their personal and free parking lot and access point to Horsetooth Mountain Park.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing the county's solutions and thoughts about the impact on our subdivision the proposed changes will have. I hope we can all work together to do what's best for everyone involved.

6. Posted by: Badidea on Oct 31, 2013 4:42 PM

Another Resident of the Continental North Subdivision. I went to the public meeting where I met many of the county workers who are heading this project. I was generally impressed with the presentation but disappointed in the direction that has been chosen. I was able to voice my concerns which I will reiterate in a moment but wish I had taken the time to research or look into the soderburg open space's governing documents before I went because I believe this proposed new trail violates the idea of "preserving" and "protecting" this open space.

First I should address the proposed trail and the location. I believe that the location of the proposed trail would be an eye sore and a scar on the Soderburg open space. Drawing a zigzag line into the middle of this open space would ruin the beauty and integrity of this piece of land. It is in poor taste and would not accomplish the goal to increase access to Horsetooth falls. At the direction of Meegan Flenniken I walked the proposed area. We were told that there would be flags guiding the way along the proposed trail but there were none so we used our best guess. I will tell you that it was a hard walk up to Stout. I am a former half Ironman and have done the towers road trail more times then I can count so I believe I am a good judge of "not easy." The trail according to my gps would be between 4/5th's of a mile and a mile.

Now I will also tell you that I walked down the South side of the open space from where Stout curves west towards Spring creek trail. My walk took me to the old farmers road that comes down a beautiful gulch. It was .57 miles to the old Farmers road. It was an easy walk and very well hidden from most of the homes in the area. There was one section of the old road that was pretty steep but not that bad This route was for the most part on the edge of the open space so it would not disrupt it's integrity.

I am opposed to any trail being added but I will tell you that when I came down the South side I was shocked that it was not where they had proposed to put the new trail. It was an easier walk and It was gorgeous. I would encourage the County to consider this South option if it is decided to proceed with building a trail as this is a much quicker trip to the falls...(part of the reason for building the trail) and is more in line with protecting and preserving this open space (building no trail would protect and preserve it more).

7. Posted by: dixoncovedesign on Nov 11, 2013 2:48 PM

While I always keep an open mind regarding new trails in the Horsetooth/Soderburg area, I am firmly against building the proposed trail from the Soderburg parking lot to Horsetooth Falls. At this time, hikers can already access the falls from the parking lot via Towers road and S. Stout or Herrington. The new trail will 'shortcut' this route and take hikers up a steep, highly visible east facing slope. Even with switchbacks this trail will be challenging for many hikers, and the switchbacks cannot be hidden from view on this open hillside. Also note that having lived in the area for nearly 35 years, we see that rattlesnakes and ticks are MUCH more prevalent on the hot, dusty east facing slopes of this valley. So this will not really be a family-friendly hiking route to the falls.

That said, I would be interested in seeing the plans for the Soderburg Homestead museum move forward. There is fascinating history and nature to share with visitors to this area. Consider a route that stays tucked in the valley and drainages and highlights the heritage and natural history of the area while preserving the overall visual impact of the Open Space. Repurposing the Open Space as a recreational area is not consistent with the original scope of this space.

As for controlling traffic and parking issues along CR 38E, this proposed trail will have minimal impact on solving that problem. I appreciate the opportunity to have seen your presentation, hike the proposed route myself, and finally, leave a comment on your site.

8. Posted by: ProNoCoTrail on Nov 13, 2013 2:54 PM

As a resident of the Continental North subdivision, I am in favor of trail expansion in the Soderburg Open Space. Further, I believe there to be a silent mass of us hoping that the expansion proceeds as planned. The concept of having designated open space which is inaccessible is like burying your golden coins in a hole--no one benefits. This county park was created so that all can enjoy it... not just the few who live next to it.

Background Image: Dream Lake frozen over in Rocky Mountain National Park by Bryce Bradford. All rights reserved.