HISTORY OF THE VALLEY
The history of Routt County started long before the first settlers, on horseback and in heavy
wooden wagons, came into the Yampa Valley. Millions of years ago a massive upheaval in the
earth’s surface formed the Rocky Mountains. The Park Range, which defines the eastern
geography of Routt County, was part of that great movement of the earth which consumed eons
and altered forever the face of what is now Northwestern Colorado.
During the ice age, glaciers formed, moved and carved the valleys that we see in modified form
today. Erosion from wind and water further changed the landscape. Rivers and streams cut into
the valleys, widening them and merging them into what we now know as the Yampa River
Valley. Channels formed and disappeared during periods of flooding. Soils, washed down from
the mountain slopes, became fertile river bottom land for growing crops.
The uplift also exposed huge seams of bituminous coal, which was to become a major natural
resource for the valley.
Man’s use and occupation of the Yampa River Valley date from about 1,000 years ago. The Ute
Indians camped in the valley during the summer month, returning to Utah for the winters. Before
1820, trappers came in search of beaver, but left with no written trace.
In 1861 gold was discovered near Hahn’s Peak but the Civil War prevented its development until
1865. Within 5 years, Hahn’s Peak was a booming mining town but this was not sustained
because of difficulties with transportation and the Utes.
James Crawford, the first permanent settler in the Yampa Valley, first visited the valley in 1872.
He returned with his family in 1876 and established a homestead claim at the site of the Iron
Spring. The townsite was surveyed and laid out in the grid formation which shaped the pattern of
development of the Old Town area.
Farther West, a few ranches were appearing. In 1873, the future town of Hayden was surveyed
and in 1875 Martin Walker established an Indian trading post there. In the following year he
filed homestead claims in that area. In South Routt, the first homestead claim was filed in 1881
in Egeria Park.
Although the rich coal deposits were known even before settlers began to come into the valley, it
was not until 1909 that mining of the “black gold” became profitable. In that year, the tracks of
Denver, Northwestern and Pacific railroad reached Steamboat Springs, opening up Routt County
for the development of coal mining.
In the meantime, the beauty of the valley, the excellence of the hay, the richness of the soil and
the abundance of wildlife brought an increasing number of visitors. The first commercial hotel in
Northwestern Colorado was built in Steamboat Springs in 1889.
Cattle, sheep and hay formed the stable economic base for the area. Early in the 1900s, more
lettuce was shipped from Routt County than from any other area in the country! Coal mining,
first operating underground, turned to strip mining in the 1960s to be economically competitive
with Eastern companies.
The three towns of Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Yampa became centers of trade. Oak Creek
and Mt. Harris served as centers for mining. Although Mt. Harris later became a ghost town, the
resulting character of the other communities was formed almost a century ago and continues
As the Yampa River Valley continued to prosper, other changes were occurring. In 1902 the
first automobile was imported. At first, roads were mere tracks, useable only for a few months
each summer. An unimproved dirt road was built over Rabbit Ears Pass. In 1908 the first
automobile arrived over the pass from Denver. For a quarter of a century, however, snow closed
the route until late June.
The road and the railroad brought great changes to the valley. The small towns began to grow.
Investors became interested in development. The coal mines continued to prosper.
Tourists also found the valley a summer paradise. Ideal weather, along with the beauty of the
area, was attractive lures. Prior to the construction of I-70, US 40 were the principal crosscontinental
highway and Steamboat Springs was on its route.
Following the formation of the Steamboat Springs Ski Club in 1914, skiing and ski jumping set
the area apart. The introduction to the community of ski jumping by Carl Howelsen was a
portent of the future not even imagined 80 years ago.
During those 80 years, Steamboat Springs became a major player in the sport of skiing. Its
Winter Carnival is the oldest continuing winter carnival west of the Mississippi. It has the oldest
ski jump in the nation and only one of half a dozen 90 meter jump hills.
In the mid-1960s, the valley experienced another major change. Development of ski facilities
moved from Howelsen Hill to the Slopes of Mount Werner. In the past 30 years, the Steamboat
Springs Ski Area has become one of the country’s premier winter resorts. “White gold” replaced
the black gold of coal as the major economic resource of the Yampa River Valley.
OLD TOWN CHARACTER
Five specific features have shaped the character and growth of the Old Town area. They are the
river, the hills on either side, the mineral springs, the railroad and the James Crawford family.
The river flows from southeast to northwest along a narrow valley. Hills rise from the river
bottom, constricting the river channel and the community’s growth on either side. Waters from
Spring, Soda and Butcherknife creeks flow from northeast to southwest through the city and into
the river within the planning area.
The aspen and evergreen blanketed hills have traditionally been a home for wildlife. A narrow,
rutted dirt road along the river served those who first settled on the river, on the lower slopes of
the surrounding hills.
The mineral springs are a unique feature of the planning area. The Lithia spring, with its claim
to bring long life to those who drink its waters, is one of only two in the world.
The railroad, bordering the river on its southwest banks, was used for both transporting
passengers and produce from Routt County to Denver. Passenger service was discontinued in
the late 1950s, but the tracks continue to present a viable, future means of trans-valley
More than any other feature, the influence of James Crawford and his wife continue to impact
the Old Town area. Crawford brought the first printing press into the valley. He formed the
Town Company and was the first mayor of the community. Through him, a surveyor laid out the
grid system that formed the pattern which dominates the planning area.
The difficulty of crossing the river led to the development of the community on its northeast
banks. Very early in the life of the town, the southwest side was used for community events.
The annual rodeo, the winter carnival and the jumping hill grew into today’s multi-sports
complex and the city’s major park facility.
Old Town remains relatively unchanged, even though substantial growth has taken place within
the city limits. The business area is located along the main street, just as it has been for the past
100 years. The county courthouse, built in 1922, dominates the downtown area. It was
constructed of graphite blocks cut from the quarry on Emerald Mountain.
The community’s main post office is also located on the main street. The hospital, the high
school and one of two elementary schools are located in the planning area.
Residential neighborhoods reflect the nature of Old Town. In the main, single-family homes
predominate. Although a majority of the early homes have been remodeled and upgraded, their
overall characteristics remain unchanged.
The constraints the narrow river valley place upon building are also an issue for road systems
between Old Town and the other areas of the city. One priority of the city is linkage between
downtown and the mountain area.
THE MOUNTAIN AREA CHARACTER
For 75 years, this was an area of cattle and hay ranches. The mountain area’s rolling pasture
land rose in the east in ever increasing heights towards the Continental Divide.
Until the early 1960s, it continued as rural landscape, dominated by several ranch houses and
their accessory buildings.
With the early development of skiing on Mount Werner in the mid-1960s, investors, real estate
companies, speculators and those interested in second home sites looked for development
opportunities in this area.
Annexed into the city in 1973, the mountain area comprises approximately 2,560 acres. About
one-sixth of those areas lie within the lower slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area.
The planning area is bordered on the north by Fish Creek, on the west by US 40 and the Yampa
River, on the east by the ski area and the Routt National Forest and on the south by the northern
boundary of Alpine Land.
Three major streams run through the land. Fish Creek flows northeast to southwest at its
northern border. Burgess Creek flows southwest from Mount Werner. Finally, Walton Creek
flows from the south, emptying into the river a half-mile from the city’s southern limits.
The mountain area rises from the riverbed at 6,800 feet to the upper gondola building at 8,000
feet. Today, its unique characteristics reflect the impacts of the ski mountain, both in its
residential and commercial areas. Annexation and the resulting re-zoning of the entire area took
place early in its development. The area’s orientation was, and continues to be, recreational.
Commercial activity centers at the ski area base. It includes hotels, shops, restaurants and
condominiums. The city has encouraged high density as well as increased building height in the
Much of the land immediately adjacent to US 40 remained undeveloped, although recently there
has been significant commercial building including office space, a business park and various
Most of the larger homes are found on the lower slopes of Mount Werner, opposite the mountain
on Dakota Ridge and adjacent to the Sheraton Golf Course which straddles Fish Creek. For
some time, the need for a connector road from this planning area to the Fish Creek area has been
a top planning concern, although it has yet to be built.
As development radiated out from the base area, densities have increased and height has been
restricted. High rise condominiums at the base give way to town homes, duplexes and single
family homes to the south.
Three roads accessed from US 40 serve the tourist industry and private homes. Defining the
northern boundary of the planning area is Pine Grove Road, serving the two large supermarkets,
several condominium developments and the Plaza Shopping Center.
To the southeast it connects with Mount Werner Road, the principal route between US 40 and
the ski area base. It is also the southern terminal of Steamboat Boulevard, a road serving the golf
course and a number of single family home subdivisions.
Parallel to and south of Mount Werner Road is the area’s second main access, Walton Creek
Road, which serves the entire southern area.
The city provides public transportation from Old Town along US 40 to the ski area via the
motels on the highway. The bus goes from the gondola base through Ski Time Square and
around most of the condominiums supplementing the many shuttle services provided by
individual condominium complexes.
SOUTH OF STEAMBOAT CHARACTER
The United States was celebrating its centennial year when the first permanent settlers came into
the Yampa Valley. Settlements appeared on the banks of the Yampa near the Steamboat Springs
and in the southern part of the valley in Egeria Park.
For the next seventy-five years, growth was slow and dependent upon ranching and coal mining.
The rural nature of the valley remained unchanged. With the advent of rapid expansion of skiing
on the slopes of Mount Werner, however, the rural nature of the south of Steamboat was
permanently changed. Developers, land speculators and economic booms cut up many of the
large, family-owned ranches. Subdivisions, most located on the western side of the valley, were
platted and approved. Second homes cut into the hillsides among the aspen groves and started to
cover the valley floor.
The South Steamboat Planning Area reaches south of the city almost 12 miles and averages 4
miles east to west. Within those 47 square miles are 11 platted subdivisions (not included is
Sidney Peak). Located adjacent to the city is Tree Haus, the largest subdivision, with 118 lots
and 83 existing dwelling units.
Within and outside the platted subdivisions, within the planning area, are 386 units. The
potential build-out is 1,257. The potential for growth, even with no further subdivision
approvals, is in place.
Geographically, the planning area is bisected north to south by US 40, Colo 131, the Yampa
River and the D&RG Railroad. The area starts at the north as a narrow valley restricted on the
west and east by heavily wooded hillsides and steep slopes. Elevations on the west rise from the
valley floor’s 6,840 feet to 8,200 feet at the high ridgelines. On the east, the valley disappears as
ridges form the lower slopes of the Routt National Forest and the Continental Divide.
The valley opens and widens 3 miles south of the city, with the river meandering south toward
the Lake Catamount Dam and south again toward Stagecoach. Although the land has been cut
into over 1,200 parcels, it has still retained its rural character. Seventy-five percent of the arable
land is still being actively farmed, with hay and cattle the main products. The river, small creeks
and ditches provide water for irrigation.
Long before the advent of the first settlers, wildlife of all kinds filled the valley floor and the
slopes to either side. Compatibility between development and wildlife continues to be a priority,
both as an environmental concern and as an economic resource.
Lake Catamount, a county designated growth center, will add not only a new community but also
a sister ski area to Mount Werner. Located on the east side of the planning area, the impacts of
its development are currently being evaluated.
“How green is my valley” perhaps best defines the South of Steamboat Planning Area. The
grass grows green under the heavy snows of winter and the valley forms an emerald jewel as
spring heralds the suns of summer.
WEST STEAMBOAT AREA CHARACTER
The West Steamboat planning area character is defined by the river valley, the small plateaus
which frame it and the people who have settled within area boundaries. All of these have formed
a profile distinct and different from the other planning areas of the comprehensive plan.
Less impacted by growth of the ski industry, this planning area reflects an economy primarily
based on ranching and mining. Both were results of its natural resources, including water,
weather and mineral deposits. Areas of former gravel and coal mining activity may be
considered potential future sites for new neighborhoods.
As the river flows west from the city limits, the landscape changes. Between Steamboat II and
Hayden, narrow canyons give way to both terraces on which both crops and cattle are grown.
The river valley widens both north and south as it flows to the west. With few exceptions, these
areas have experienced little change in ownership or use during the past half century. As the
need grows for facilities to support recreational impacts, these areas will become increasingly
attractive for development.
Industrial and commercial development is found in West Steamboat, adjacent to the Steamboat
Airport (STOLport) and along US 40 and Colo 129 at their intersection. Colo 129 is the principal
road used by both ranchers and recreationalists traveling north. It accesses Steamboat Lake State
Park and the entrance to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
US 40, which parallels the river, provide the main highway corridor linking Steamboat and
settlements to the west. Only two bridges span the river in the West Steamboat planning area. In
order to preserve the visual quality of US 40, and at the same time encourage development, more
accessibility to areas in the southwest is needed. Twentmile Road, which is the main access to
that area from Steamboat Springs, is narrow and meandering.
Also paralleling the river is the D&RG Railroad, for many years providing passenger service
from Craig to Denver. Although at present the railroad transports only coal, as a people mover it
could become a significant resource.
The Steamboat Airport, a 10 minute ride from downtown Steamboat, provides an attractive and
efficient facility. Its runway can accommodate “short take-off and landing” planes, carrying up
to 50 passengers.
The river corridor is a prime resource area for parks and trails, linking the city with those living
and working in to the west. At present, the only parks in the West Steamboat planning area are
the pocket parks in Steamboat II. A trail linking existing trails to the Mount Harris Historical
site should be a planning goal.