The rolling hills of the Evergreen Golf Course won't go unused this winter, as the Evergreen Park and Recreation District plans to open the area to sledding during the snowy months.
The plan is to eventually have nordic skiing and snowshoeing as well, but because of flood damage to bridges, EPRD plans a test run of the course's milder winter capabilities this season.
"(The sledding-only idea) will give us an idea of whether people will come," said EPRD board member Janet Heck Doyle, "and it will also enable us to put all that capital cost into 2014 … . And it's sort of a, 'OK, let's stick our toe in and see whether this is viable.' "
All the bridges on the golf course were damaged or destroyed in September's flooding, EPRD executive director Scott Robson said, and, having a lower priority than other reconstruction efforts, they won't likely be repaired until spring. This has decreased the number of parking spots available.
The EPRD board agreed that the sledding-only approach is likely the best one, for budget reasons as well as other factors. These include complaints about trash and dog excrement at the lake and illegal parking in the area, all of which have fueled calls to limit use of the Lake Park.
"I think it's going to be necessary for us to scale back how many people we're asking to come to the place. That's the real short of it," Robson said.
At least one bridge has been repaired, but with the bridge for vehicles out, parking has been reduced by about 30 spots, with Keys on the Green losing 20.
EPRD is hoping to have the sledding operation in gear by late November — or late December, at the latest, in time for the holidays. In future winters, it hopes to offer a tubing hill (with tubes provided), a nordic ski center with groomed trails, a terrain park with rails for skiers and snowboarders, and marked snowshoe trails.
EPRD will spend about $20,000 this year to set up the sledding area. Robson said that will include first-year expenses such as investing in equipment and a snowmobile for upkeep.
A similar expenditure is envisioned in 2014, he said, for establishing the nordic ski area. The board is hesitant to identify an exact amount for next year, since the inaugural season could reveal some hidden costs.
"We're going to see what works well," Robson said, "and what the public thinks so we can grow in the right direction, rather than cutting out of the gate full bore around a business we haven't fully tested yet."
There will be a fee to use the center, but it hasn't been set yet. Robson said "the goal is to keep it at an affordable price while covering all our operating costs." EPRD will get the lion's share of the revenue, with the city of Denver taking a modest cut for allowing the use of the golf course and the pro shop.
Robson said the specifics of the contract are still being negotiated with Denver.
As for safety concerns, Robson said the center would have "clear safety signage … along with significant safety precautions in our operations."
Both EPRD and Denver carry liability insurance coverage in the event of an accident, he said. The operation would also take steps to protect the turf on the course.
"Nordic trails will be groomed by a nordic ski groomer pulled by a snowmobile," Robson said. "The trail locations will be set with input by Denver Golf staff to ensure that they do not cross golf greens or tee boxes. The EPRD will also have a trail patroller to ensure skiers stay on trails, and all skiers will have a trail pass. Snowshoe trails will be marked with simple signs and be separate from the nordic ski trails."
There also will be a hill manager who will make sure all visitors have a pass.
Evergreen Lake Park has experienced record usage this year, Robson reported at the board's Oct. 1 work session, including 25 special events and more than 100 weddings, in addition to regular daily use. Robson has said that some special events, such as the Big Chili Cook-off, could be moved to other district venues.