The complex is the only city park that restricts how adults can use fields.
Steamboat Springs City Council balked at a proposal to allow organized adult sports use at Emerald Park on Tuesday, opting to delay a decision until later in the fall.
When Emerald Park was built in the 1990s, it was restricted for scheduling of youth activities only, though adults are able to use the park for pickup games and other passive uses.
But as requests to use the city’s park amenities has seen increases in recent years, the idea of allowing adult use at Emerald worked its way through the Parks and Recreation Commission, which recommended a trial period for adult use with selective scheduling to ensure there would still be space for unorganized play.
City Parks staff made a different recommendation to council, which would simply allow the park to be scheduled in the same way as every other park in Steamboat. But after a lengthy discussion, council didn’t come to much agreement on what to do and if anything appeared to favor rejecting both recommendations and simply maintaining the status quo for now.
Rather than rejecting the proposal outright, council opted to bring the request back later in the year. This is because Ski Town Park is slated to close for all of next summer and maybe even parts of 2025, which will further limit fields available for user groups. If Emerald were to allow adult use, it could ease that bind to a degree.
In public comment, people who live near the park spoke against allowing adult use, saying that there are increasingly less places for people to play unorganized sports and stressing that ensuring Emerald is still allowed for this was important. Members of the Yampa River Botanic Park Board also spoke in opposition of allowing adult use, saying that parking is limited and any increase in use would make the situation worse.
“That parking lot is never empty folks,” said Kathy Connell, president of the Botanic Park board. “Our position remains that you should not change the ordinance yet, until we work out a lot of the problems, particularly the already overused parking lot.”
Adding parking at Emerald was being explored with a number of partners prior to the pandemic, but that fell apart as the city slashed budgets in 2020. The parcel being pursued at the time, between the railroad tracks and U.S. 40, has since been purchased by another entity.
Council also considered the current use of the park by members of the Spanish-speaking community, a concern raised in public comment and in a letter from the Latinx Alliance. The letter requested a delay in the decision on the ordinance to allow adult use, saying it “may disproportionately affect marginalized communities.”
“We believe that many individuals within our community may have a limited understanding of the expectations and regulations due to language barriers,” the letter reads.
Field use across the city is already very tight, parks staff said. This is the primary reason why the city has pushed so hard for a regional park at the Brown Ranch, one of the areas in annexation where the city and Yampa Valley Housing Authority still lack any common ground.
That pressure gets worse next year when Ski Town Park will close for an irrigation project, which may need to extend into 2025. The city has tried to explore using fields at Steamboat Springs Schools, but that isn’t a solution to the field crunch at this point. (Parks Director Angela Cosby said those talks have been ongoing since she started in her role five years ago without any progress.)
Council opted to postpone a decision until October, feeling something may need to be done to address the looming field shortage before next summer.
Top Photo Caption: Emerald Park (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)