River plan to be in place by fall

Guidelines for decisions about recreation will be set

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— The city of Steamboat Springs intends to have a river management plan in place by fall to guide future decisions about recreation on a 4.5-mile stretch of the Yampa within city limits.

The city is advertising for proposals from experienced consultants to prepare a plan that would complement a 2001 study of the river's health.

"The idea is to engage the community in determining what tools would best help us protect what is a jewel of the community," Chris Wilson said. He is the city's director of parks, open space and recreation.

Wilson said it's important that a consultant from outside the community come in and work with stakeholders as well as the broader community to find consensus on the future of the river where it flows through the city limits.

"That way, the larger community gets buy-in and we'll know that we're on the right track," Wilson said.

The selected consulting firm will be asked to review the result of the 2001 study, including a detailed survey of residents' recreational experiences on the river. The survey drew 1,350 responses.

Next, the consultant will be asked to develop a process for gathering public opinion and to host public forums on the issues. By the end of August, the consultants will be expected to submit a draft management plan that would, in its final form, provide a framework for policy decisions about management of the river into the foreseeable future. The final plan is due Oct. 31.

Once the plan is finalized, the city's Rivers and Trails Committee is likely to be the group working most closely with it. The Rivers and Trails Committee makes recommendations to the Parks and Recreation commission, which in turn advises the City Council.

Kent Vertrees is a member of the Rivers and Trails Committee and is employed by an outfitting company that offers whitewater rafting, tubing and fishing trips. He hopes the new plan will help the community to safeguard the river.

"It should tell us what we should be doing as a community to make sure the health of the river is adequately protected for years and years and years to come," Vertrees said. "The health of the river influences the health of the community."

Mike Neumann, the city's open spaces supervisor, said the final plan could include limits on a variety of recreational activities in the river if the consultant finds the carrying capacity of the river has been reached. The city already caps the number of customers commercial tubing operators can accommodate on given days.

"The plan would give us a basis for policy development if further regulations are necessary to adequately provide for the health of the river and the recreational experience," Neumann said.

Wilson was quick to point out it has not yet been determined more regulations are necessary. He and Neumann were encouraged last summer when commercial tubing companies called an early halt to their operations during the drought. The public also responded well to requests that they stay out of the river during low-water conditions and the voluntary fishing ban imposed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"We were tremendously pleased with the public response," Neumann said. "One of the things I've been encouraged by during the two years I've been working on this is that everybody is working toward the same goal, which is the protection of the river. Commercial operators realize that without the health of the river, they don't have a product to offer."

Interested firms have until Feb. 10 to submit proposals to the city. Details can be found on the city's Web site at www.steamboat-springs.com.

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