Tubing companies look downstream

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— The ongoing debate over the future of commercial inner tubing on the Yampa River rounded a new bend this month as one tubing company publicly pledged to work toward shifting the activity further downstream out of the downtown area. But a second tubing outfitter rejected that idea and called for the first company to become more involved in the public process. And a third has already jumped in the shallow water and begun experimenting with the feasibility of sending its customers downstream from the Fifth Street Bridge.

John Duty, owner of Bucking Rainbow Outfitters, confirmed Tuesday that he has been sending relatively small numbers of tubers downstream from Fifth Street to the KOA campground, where he has negotiated a take-out point on private property. Duty said he is getting a positive reaction from his clients.

"They're loving it," Duty said. "It's less crowded, it's real peaceful down there. People who have floated the upstream section have actually told me they like this better."

Duty acknowledged he was surprised to find some people prefer the downstream section, but he's learned that some customers prefer a mellow float to the boulder strewn runs of the upstream section.

Tobias Hemmerling, chief executive officer, and Harrison W. Dike, general manager, of Buggywhips Fish and Float Service, took out a full-page ad in the July 5 Steamboat Today to inform their fellow commercial tubing operators and the community at large of their downstream focus. The two men announced their company was committed to working with the city of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers on making the necessary stream improvements to ensure recreational tubing can take place in the future downstream from 11th Street.

"There can be no doubt that commercial tubing will cease to exist on the downtown corridor," the published statement from Buggywhips said. "It remains to be seen whether we can adapt to a changing environment and continue to thrive or whether we will be inflexible and await our extinction." The two men said they choose to adapt and survive, rather than sit back and wait.

Dike said Tuesday his company is planning a fund-raiser to generate more money for downstream river improvements and has told the city it is willing to hire a crane to remove old rip-rap and other potential safety hazards from the section of the river between 13th Street and the James Brown Bridge.

But in a letter to the editor of the Steamboat Pilot this week, Peter Van De Carr of Backdoor Sports rejected the notion that tubing along the downtown stretch of the Yampa is doomed. He suggested Hemmerling and Dike haven't attended enough of the public meetings on tubing during the last three years.

"Your attempts, though noble, lack (the) spine required by the process," Van De Carr wrote. "The river corridor will continue to be run by kayakers, rafters, canoeists, fly fishers and tubers for many years to come. With our stewardship, the river will maintain the level of health it presently enjoys."

Van De Carr said on Tuesday that he bristled at the tone of the July 5 add, and doesn't believe Dike and Hemmerling are in a position to speak for the industry.

Van De Carr's perspective is unique in that he is both a tubing operator and a member of the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission was unable to reach consensus in mid-June and sent the fate of commercial tubing on the Yampa above Fifth Street on to City Council without a recommendation. The director of Parks, Recreation and Open Space, Chris Wilson, intends to bring the issue to City Council a public hearing date has not been set.

Hemmerling and Dike purchased the existing Buggywhips Fish and Float Service from Jim Blackburn earlier this year. Together with Bucking Rainbow Outfitters, they occupy a special niche in the tubing universe themselves; the two companies offer both guided fishing trips and tube rentals, thus they have business interests on both sides of the tubing debate.

A nonprofit organization of anglers, the Yampa Valley FlyFishers, have been active in the tubing discussions from the beginning. The YVFF has been a partner with the city in obtaining "Fishing is Fun" grants from the Colorado Division of Wildlife to carry out stream improvement projects on the river roughly between Bucci Ponds upstream near the stoplight at Walton Creek Road, down to 13th Street. The organization's leadership, including president Jim Curd, has made a forceful argument that the city's contract with he DOW precludes its sanctioning of commercial activities through those stretches of the river.

Wilson has taken the position that the amount of time, energy and resources needed to test that position would be unproductive. He's urging, instead, that all parties concerned work together to enhance tubing downstream from Fifth Street, so that the two forms of recreation can be separated.

The city has something to say about the future of commercial tubing because it owns the put-in point at Rotary Park, and the take-out point along the river at Yampa Street and 11th Street.

Duty, who is sending tubers farther downtstream,acknowledged he's had some complaints from residents in the Dream Island trailer park on the city's west side. But Duty is attempting to spread out the impacts by sending his clients out in a "timed releases." Instead of launching tubes perpetually he sends them out in bursts of five to 15 tubes every two hours. That way, people who live along the river don't see a constant stream of tubers.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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