City may deflate river tubingProposal to restrict commercialoperators floated by parks panel


— Commercial tubing may meet its Water-loo on the Yampa River above Fifth Street in Steamboat Springs.

City officials were considering a rule change this week that would prohibit commercial tubing on that section of the river beginning Sept. 5. The Parks and Recreation Commission was scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider an amendment to the city regulation governing commercial tubing that would require the companies to operate further downstream.

For practical purposes, that means commercial tube operators would be able to continue business as usual this summer. But, the summer of 2001 will usher in a new era in the popular pastime of tubing on the Yampa.

A representative of at least one large tubing company said she doesn't think her operation can survive the change.

"What I think it means is we'll be out of business," Brenda Burbach. She has managed Lockhart Tubes for Cookie Lockhart for more than eight years.

The proposed rule change would not affect people floating in their own tubes that non-commercial activity would still be allowed above the Fifth Street Bridge. Nor would the rule move other commercial recreation outfitters below Fifth Street. For the time being, kayak outfitters and schools, professional fishing guides, rafting companies and canoe companies could still operate there in 2001.

However, just like the tubing companies, the other commercial river outfitters would now be required to contribute 5 percent of their gross revenue to a fund established to gather more data about the how recreation affects the health of the river and create a comprehensive river management plan.

Jim Curd is president of the Yampa Valley FlyFishers, an organization of anglers that has taken an active role in stream improvements on the upper stretch of the Yampa in town. He said that although his organization wants commercial tubing moved downstream, it has no desire to hurt the tubing businesses.

"We don't want to put anybody out of business," Curd said. "That's not the point. We have a huge vested interest in this.

The city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation, Chris Wilson, said Monday the amendment to City Manager Rule 16-2-101 represents the latest development in a three-year effort to manage increasing incompatibility between two forms of recreation tubing and fishing.

A key element in the debate over how the city should manage recreation on the river stems from "Fishing is Fun" grants that have been used to acquire property to assure public access and complete stream improvements that enhance fishing.

Wilson said members of the Yampa Valley FlyFishers, who worked closely with the city in obtaining the Fishing is Fun grants, have vigorously asserted that the city's contract with the Colorado Division of Wildlife governing the grants would disallow the commercial tubing to continue in those stretches of the river.

The action being contemplated by the Parks and Recreation Commission referred specifically to the upper portion of the Yampa in the city limits, which encompasses the "Fishing is Fun" sections.

Linda Kakela of the city's department of Intergovernmental Affairs said the city has used Fishing is Fun grants to secure public access near Rotary Park and Emerald Park. Another grant, which is pending, would add public access on a small portion of the Baxter property bordering the river in the city limits along River Road. A Fishing is Fun grant also is part of the city's purchase of the "Polumbus Parcel" upstream from current commercial tubing, near U.S. 40 and Walton Creek Road. Most of that purchase is being accomplished with money from Great Outdoors Colorado.

Curd said the FlyFishers have invested tens of thousands of hard dollars, plus many volunteer hours in the Fishing is Fun projects. Altogether, including the grants, $500,000 has been spent on the Fishing is Fun projects, he said.

Although the FlyFishers assert that the tubing is not allowed in Fishing is Fun areas, Wilson said he's not so sure that's what the contract says. But, he's decided the amount of administrative resources that would be needed to resolve the dispute are counterproductive. He'd rather put that energy into downstream improvements that benefit the health of the river and create a new, separate stretch for commercial tubing.

"Many legal issues about this policy are far from clear cut," Wilson wrote in a memo to the Parks and Recreation Commission. "Arguments can be made on both sides of the various issues. It is clear that adoption of a city ordinance can allow the city to enforce a commercial tubing closure. Rather than spend time and money on litigation and/or audits, staff would hope to work toward planning, design and construction of another restored reach of the Yampa River system."

The buck starts here

Wilson said Monday that Fishing is Fun grants originate with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and are passed along to local governments by the DOW. The FlyFishers believe the upper stretch of the river was restored using federal dollars to enhance fishing, and the commercial tubing community should undertake its own improvements in another section of the river, Wilson said. They are upset enough to ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to intervene, Wilson said.

Curd said the FlyFishers simply want to ensure the stretches of the Yampa improved with Fishing is Fun money are managed the way the grants intended for enhanced fisheries.

Curd said his organization was writing a check for $7,000 from its Yampa River Charitable Stream Improvement Trust this week to go toward stream improvements in the section of river below 13th Street. That's the same section the new city manager's rule would require commercial tubing to operate on. Curd said YVFF remains committed to improving the health of the river and the fisheries resource.

"We're not going to walk away from this," Curd promised. "A few years ago, I said, 'Look, we need to find a win-win for the city, for commercial users and for fishers."

Pay back

Moving commercial tubing downstream, and improving the structure of the river in that area will make everyone including the city happier, Curd said. But he believes the commercial tubing companies must begin to pay their way instead of flourishing on the stream improvements that were built for the fisheries, and coincidentally improve floating and tubing.

"It's not just about fishing," Curd said. "We're just the most vocal group. They (the commercial tubers) have had it so good for so long they just won't come to the table."

The most important issue is the health of the river, Curd said.

"How much is enough, and when are we loving the resource to death?" he asked.

Rush to judgment?

Ross Roscoe Johnson of Rock'n'Roll Rubber Rentals said the latest proposal in the city's regulation of tubing caught him by surprise.

"I thought that for the last couple of years, we've gotten along pretty well, then on April 20, I learned they want to end commercial tubing (above Fifth Street) on Sept. 5. I'm not understanding whey they don't want us there any more."

Johnson noted that the FlyFishers have developed their stream improvements over the course of a dozen years, and he doesn't think it's realistic for the tubing companies to bring about improvements by next summer.

"The timing is unfortunate for us," Johnson said.

The river downstream from Johnson's business at the corner of Eleventh and Yampa streets is not as interesting a stretch to tube, both because it is shorter and the current is not as varied. The channel is wider, meaning the water becomes too shallow to tube, earlier in the summer. Many of the upstream features that make for good tubing boulders, small rapids and dropoffs, were created by the FlyFishers' projects to speed up the current and create pools and deeper channels.

Johnson isn't enthusiastic about the future down stream.

"They're basically going to put us out of business," Johnson said. He said it was too early for him to speculate about whether or not he'll attempt to rent tubes in the summer of 2001. His first reaction is that he might just sell tubes so tourists can enjoy the river on their own. But Johnson and Burbach warn that if the tubing public is driven to purchasing tubes and floating on its own, it could have undesirable consequences.

Controls in place

One of the positive results that has come about since the city imposed tubing regulations two years ago, is that the activity is monitored more closely by the companies, they say. Both agree that prior to regulations, there were days when the tubing outfitters put far too many tubers on the river. Now, they say they enforce an alcohol ban, clean up litter, and assure that children wear life jackets on the river. They also benefit the community by reducing vehicular traffic when they shuttle their clients to the put-in point in their vans.

"It will be a whole lot harder on the river," Burbach predicted. "They'll have unsupervised people with bottles and liquor. They're going to risk people getting hurt and having the river trashed. We control that and we work very hard at it. No one loves the river more than we do not the fly fishermen or anyone."

Johnson says the downstream float is just too short compared to the couple of hours tubers currently enjoy on their way from Rotary Park, upstream, down to 11th Street.

Float times vary with the amount of water in the river, but Johnson has experimented with the downstream section.

"I floated from Rock'n'Roll to the James Brown Soul Center Bridge and it took 45 minutes," Johnson said. "I estimate it would take 15 minutes to float from Fifth Street to the new transit turn-around at Stockbridge."

Floating all the way to the James Brown Bridge would require some negotiations with property owners and consulting neighbors in the Dream Island trailer park, Wilson cautioned. But that may be a tubing controversy for another season.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail


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