Steamboat kayakers raise concerns about Charlie’s Hole |

Steamboat kayakers raise concerns about Charlie’s Hole

Repairs to downtown water feature questioned as runoff surges forward

Mike Lawrence

Local kayaker Brian Gardel plays in the whitewater of Charlie's Hole on Tuesday afternoon. Concerns are increasing that fall's repairs to the whitewater feature are not playing out well as river flows increase.
John F. Russell

Water rolls over Charlie's Hole on the Yampa River in front of Bud Werner Memorial Library. The hole is a popular spot for local kayakers this time of year, and has become a draw for swimmers and people who enjoy being around water in summer.John F. Russell

— Concerns are rising that fall's repairs to the Charlie's Hole kayaking feature are not playing out well as river flows increase, creating a situation that could affect upcoming boating events in a season with high expectations from record-setting snowpack.

"It's obviously a bit compromised," Peter Van De Carr said Tuesday about the recirculating wave commonly called the C-Hole on the Yampa River at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. "Unfortunately, feature-building is not an exact science."

Van De Carr is a board member of the river advocacy group Friends of the Yampa.

The city spent about $27,000, including a $1,000 donation from Friends of the Yampa, for work on the C-Hole in November. Gary Lacy, of Recreation Engineering and Planning in Boulder, and local company Nordic Excavating conducted the repairs. The work was designed to restore the placement of boulders that help shape the whitewater feature and had shifted during strong flows in spring 2010.

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The repairs were sensitive — the elevation of boulders at the feature is part of the city's recreational in-channel diversion water right, which mandates flow rates on the Yampa through spring and summer to provide enough water for recreational activities.

Chris Wilson, director of the city's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said Tuesday that the repairs used the same design as when the feature was first installed, which he said roughly coincided with the city's diversion filing in 2003.

Last month, in lesser flows, initial reviews of the repairs were great.

"It's awesome," local kayaker Dan Piano said in April. "They did a great job fixing it. It's back to the way it used to be."

River flows then were about 700 cubic feet per second through downtown.

The Yampa River was flowing at 1,760 cfs near the Fifth Street bridge at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, however, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That flow rate is well above seasonal averages.

People continue to ride the C-Hole wave, but the positive perception is changing with the runoff.

"There are definitely a lot of folks that are enjoying the heck out of that wave the way it is now," Van de Carr said. "And there's the other element that are pretty darned upset that it's not like the way it was before."

Kayaker and Friends of the Yampa board member Adam Mayo was less diplomatic.

"The rocks did not go back where they were supposed to go," Mayo said. "What you have there is less of a pinch, less of a restriction, so the water just flows right through there."

Mayo said the C-Hole "still functions up to about 1,300 or 1,400 cfs — it's only when the flow exceeds that amount that the feature washes out."

He noted that runoff should steadily increase for the next several weeks and river flows should remain above 1,300 cfs for the next two months or so.

He said kayakers are talking about the C-Hole's condition.

"It's a big disappointment to a lot of people," Mayo said. "It's the difference between having the 90-meter (ski) jump at Howelsen (Hill) and not having the 90-meter jump. It was the main feature of the river, and now it's gone."

Event impacts

The sixth annual Paddling Life Pro Invitational is May 30 at the C-Hole. The event is part of the National Freestyle Championships Point Series and is a highlight of the Yampa River Festival.

Mayo and Van De Carr speculated that the C-Hole's condition could move invitational events to the D-Hole, slightly downstream, which Mayo said is "not as good a feature."

Water sports are a significant moneymaker for local recreation, retail and lodging industries. Boulder water attorney Fritz Holleman told the Steamboat Springs City Council in fall that aquatic amenities such as the C-Hole can bring $7.2 million to the local economy annually.

Wilson said Tuesday that he and city open space supervisor Craig Robinson are aware of the problem but that little can be done in the immediate future. Wilson said he hopes to assess the C-Hole when flows subside.

"I'm hopeful that the assessment will occur in June, and it may be latter June," he said.

Wilson said he's contacted Lacy and Nordic Excavating.

"They say what we had as a design is what we built," Wilson said. "They can only be guessing if there's a difference until they can go back in."

Mayo said he plans to raise the issue at tonight's meeting of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission at 5:30 p.m. at Steamboat Springs Community Center. Mayo suggested that sandbags could be placed at the C-Hole to raise the elevation of banks, but noted the idea could get mixed reviews.

Van De Carr said the C-Hole could continue to change with river flows.

"Once it goes over 3,000 or 4,000 (cfs), who knows what that thing is going to do — it may come back in earnest," Van De Carr said. "There's a lot of features up and down the river, and we'll just pick the best one — the D-Hole is awesome, too, and the (ambulance barn) hole will be good."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email

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