Tubing ban may be extended

Commercial restrictions on sections of Yampa River could continue for two more years

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— The only thing more dangerous than tubing in January is talking about tubing in January.

The Parks and Recreation Commission, a public board appointed by the City Council, voted last week to recommend extending a controversial ban on commercial tubing above Fifth Street for two more years.

Perhaps the most surprising development in the tubing controversy, however, may be that many of the operators are OK with the ban. Last summer did not turn out to be as disastrous as previously anticipated, with some companies able to make a profit on the restricted enterprise.

The City Council decided on Feb. 20, 2001, to restrict commercial tubing on the river above Fifth Street for the summer and conduct a study of the river and make modifications to the lower Yampa.

Pete Van De Carr, the owner of Backdoor Sports, which rents and sells tubes, said the ban did not hurt his business to the degree he thought it would. He said he reduced his expenses enough to make some money in the tubing business.

John Duty, the owner of High Adventures, said he also didn't mind the ban. Duty has used the lower stretch for a few years now and said it can be a good enough ride to get tourists to hop into a tube. His one complaint was that the city decreased the number of tubers allowed on the river for each company.

Brenda Burbach, manager of (Cookie) Lockhart's River Ranch, however, said the ban has had serious consequences for her business, taking away two-thirds of her revenues and nearly shutting her down.

With a new City Council, though, Burbach said the tide may turn in the decade-long river wars that have pitted tubing companies against those who enjoy fly-fishing.

One of the unintended consequences of the ban was an increase in the number of tubes sold by companies such as Wal-Mart, which sold out of tubes and virtually any other inflatable device early in the summer. Private tubers were allowed full use of the river and by all reports they took advantage of it.

Jim Curd, the president of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers, said he doesn't mind that private noncommercial tubers used the entire river, even if it meant they were floating by fly fishers, some of whom have claimed tubers are both a nuisance and a hazard to the river. Curd said the point of the ban was to keep commercial operators from monopolizing the river. If the public had free reign, then the restrictions worked, he said.

"Part of the problem was the fact that the private interests, be it tubing or fishing, had too much control over the river," he said.

Pete Wither, the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the commission relied on staff and professional analysis and the testaments of tubing company operators who said the ban did not hurt their businesses to a significant degree. Wither added that no tubing operators showed up at the meeting to complain.

"Everything pointed to the fact that they were happy," Wither said.

The city, meanwhile, has attempted to improve the lower stretch of the river for recreators and, at the same time, aid fish habitat. It has created kayak play holes and further channeled the river at certain points.

The city also commissioned a $50,000 study to test the health of the river and see if pollutants and multiple uses have caused problems. As a part of the study, the city had a consultant survey river users to see what they thought of the new restrictions.

City officials refused to comment on the commission's recommendation.

The Steamboat Springs City Council will not likely vote on the tubing recommendation until or after March.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

or e-mail asalzman@steamboatpilot.com

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