Down the tubes

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Amidst doubts, amidst anger, amidst the little eddies that spun City Council around and around and around again on Tuesday night, one river user has found a way to achieve true multiple-use of the Yampa River.

"Every time I float down the river I've got a fly rod in my hand," said John Duty, owner of High Adventures and Bucking Rainbow Outfitters. "If I'm on a tube, I'm catching fish."

Duty may be the only person in the entire county who has been able to balance deftly on the fence that separates tubing companies from those who flyfish.

And even he has his allegiances.

Like a pair of divorced parents who each claim they know what's best for their child, the various river users have couched their arguments in terms of "what's best for the river's health" for the past four months (let alone the past 10 years). Then, on Tuesday the issue took a distinct rhetorical detour as tubing company owner Cookie Lockhart called the issue a strictly "recreational" one in this particular battle, she said, the one group of recreators that will win out are the fishermen. Custody of the child, then, is in their hands.

Yampa Valley Fly Fisher President Jim Curd, who argues that it's not the success of the fishermen but the health of the river they are looking out for, doesn't think that's such a bad thing.

Curd has repeatedly asserted that the those who fly fish have done more than just about anyone to ensure the health of the river, helping the city get grant money for the river through the federal government's Fishing-is-Fun program.

Councilman Jim Engelken, in turn, said that the river conflict was a "political" issue, because determining the impacts to the river's health, before any studies are undertaken, is a relatively subjective matter. The decision, then, which will have major impacts on tubing company operators and recreators on the river all summer, was made without the city necessarily knowing what group is causing the most damage to the river.

Others, such as Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who proved the strongest opponent of the move Tuesday night, objected to singling out one commercial enterprise.

The one issue most council members were able to agree on was that something had to be done to allow the city to study the river and see if the river will survive if tubing survives. What exactly should be done, however, was in dispute all night.

"Just because we feel we need to do something, doesn't mean we should do something flawed," Connell said.

Forcing the

issue downstream

The tubing companies will now be operating on the lower stretch of the river, which some operators say is an inferior ride and would effectively shut down their businesses. Nonetheless, all but one of the commercial tubing operators showed up for a meeting at 7:15 a.m. Thursday to decide how seasonal use permits would be issued on the lower stretch, presumably ready to make it work.

The city is also ready to make it work, at least as far as Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson is concerned.

Along with undertaking the river management study on the health of the river, the city will be hiring a company to make modifications to the lower Yampa in order to make the most out of that stretch. While he doesn't like the term "tuber's park," Wilson said tubing would probably be enhanced by the changes, which include putting boulders into the river to channelize some of the lower-water areas. The cost of the river study and modifications comes to $75,000. Wilson is quick to dissuade others from using the term "improvements" to describe the changes the city will be making, as those "improvements" may not seem so positive to some.

Don Jalack, a resident of Dream Island trailer park, said the modifications may have grave consequences for the residents of the trailer park. Based on a map he received from the city documenting proposed changes to the river, Jalack noted that the city would be diverting water in ways that could end up forcing tubers closer to his home. On the bank opposite his home, the city will be building a gravel bar or placing a series of boulders against the bank, making the water swing the other way toward his backyard and porch.

Jalack, a fisherman himself, said he feels the problem of tubers crowding the river, far from being eliminated, has simply floated down to his neighborhood. And with the private tubers that will still be able to use the upper stretch, he doesn't see how any of these issues will be resolved.

"What we're going to have to deal with now isn't really fair to anybody," Jalack said.

An inferior ride?

Wilson has measured the distance of the lower Yampa ride on a map and estimates it to be about 1.32 miles as compared to the old 2.65 mile course. That means the distance is almost exactly half of what it used to be. The distance depends on where the outfitters put-in, be it Fifth, Ninth or 11th street, Wilson said. Wilson had assumed a put-in at Fifth street in his calculations.

Some tubing company owners have asserted that the ride will take about 20 minutes, meaning tubers may be getting out and driving back up to the start again.

Duty, through his company High Adventures, actually spent an entire season testing out the ride on the lower Yampa last summer. He found the stretch to be more than adequate for his small business, in part because the other operators were still upstream and there was less competition and crowding on that part of the river.

He said he thinks people will still pay to get in the river even if they have to take the shorter route from Fifth Street to the Stockbridge center. But, council members wondered how many times people will be getting back in if they have to stop after 20 minutes?

"If it only takes 20 minutes, how many river rides are we going to be putting on the river?" Connell asked.

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