After success of 2013 summer season on the Yampa River, some wonder how much usage is too much
March 13, 2014
City revenue from commercial Yampa River operations
2011: $10, 421
Source: City of Steamboat Springs
Money collected is from a 5 percent fee on the gross revenue of outfitters who use the city’s public river access
Headcount of 2013 commercial river users
Stand up paddle boarding: 374
Source: City of Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — Newly released data from the city of Steamboat Springs puts a big exclamation point on the success of the Yampa River’s 2013 summer recreation season.
But with that success and the potential for more visitors, the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday night asked city staff: How much usage would be too much?
The city collected $22,129 last year in fees from the tubing, angling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding companies that are permitted to run commercial operations on the Yampa where it runs through downtown Steamboat.
It easily was the most the city has collected from the 5 percent fee on commercial river operators since the fee was established in 2004.
The 2013 total also was nearly three times as much as the $8,494 in commercial fees the city collected in 2012, when the river had to be voluntarily closed to recreation because of low flows.
"As a whole, last year was a great year for commercial operations on the river and flows were sustained throughout the summer," Open Space and Howelsen Hill Facilities Supervisor Craig Robinson told the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday night.
The reflection on the most recent recreation season on the Yampa came as the Parks and Recreation Commission supported renewing for another year the licenses of six of the newest operators on the river that ranged from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding companies.
Commission Chairman Jack Trautman pondered what would happen if the volume increased by 50 percent.
"Would that be a tipping point?” he asked city staff.
Robinson said capacity on the Yampa is a topic the city may have to visit in the future if visitor numbers trend upward.
Efforts to curb littering, which Robinson said remains the biggest impact of the recreation, also are ongoing.
The commercial usage limits for tubers were set a decade ago when the Yampa River Management Plan was adopted.
The plan, which was created because of the additional recreational demand on the river, also spells out river etiquette and recommended access points.
"At this point in time, we haven’t seen any negative impacts from the commercial operators," Robinson said, adding that many of the operators also are leaders in the campaigns to keep the river a clean and safe place. "I don’t think we’re at a tipping point right now with the commercial users."
He said the challenge could come from an increase in private users.
The city would have to help make sure the private river users are complying with alcohol rules, not littering or trampling vegetation and keeping their dogs on leashes.
And in an environment where it can be hard to catch up with people floating down the river, enforcement could be tough.
Last summer, the city’s 12 commercial river outfitters sent 18,779 tubers, 376 anglers, 374 stand-up paddleboarders, 659 kayakers and 743 rafters and canoeists to the Yampa.
Although those were big jumps from recent summer seasons because of the better river flows, Robinson said the city did not receive any calls or complaints about the impact of the river recreation.
After hearing from the new outfitters, commission members praised the success of the recent recreation season.
Trautman said the river provides an opportunity for local river outfitters to make a living while also adding value to the community and letting people try new things.
"I get pretty excited about this," he said.