Floating the Yampa is a cool summer pastime

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— Last year's drought provided less than satisfactory tubing conditions on the Yampa River and caused tubing companies and the river to be closed much of the summer season.

But with snowpack levels at more than 100 percent, tubers expect 2003 to be a strong season.

Mike Neumann, who works with the city's open space and river programs, said the season should start at the beginning of July.

The tubing companies have to wait until the water flow goes below 200 cubic feet per second before sending tubers on the river. At the start of May, the Yampa was flowing around 800 cfs.

Neumann said with the wet spring and strong snow pack, the river will probably not be safe to tube on until the end of June or beginning of July.

The commercial tubing companies also have restrictions on when the river is too low to go down the river. Those restrictions meant closing down tubing operations to protect the health of the river for most of the summer in 2002.

Tubing operations close down if the river is below 80 cfs, if the water temperature is above 75 degrees or if the dissolved oxygen levels are less than 6 milligrams per liter for 48 hours.

Unlike last year, Kent Vertrees of Blue Sky West and Buggy Whips said the river should be able to support tubers all year.

"I say if the water levels stay at responsible levels, we should be tubing until the tubers stop coming," he said.

Two years ago the city restricted commercial tubers to the lower part of the river. Those restrictions allow the companies to only put in below the Fifth Street Bridge and most take out at the James Brown Bridge.

"It is a great float. You see the downtown corridor as well as west of town," Vertrees said.

The city also limits the number of people commercial tubers can take down the river. Altogether, commercial tubing companies can take 900 people per day on the weekends, 500 on Fridays and 433 on weekdays.

Commercial tubers provide the tubes and shuttles between the put-in and take-out points. Blue Sky West charges $13 per tube and the whole experience takes about an hour and half.

Vertrees recommends tubers sign up early to make sure they reserve a spot and miss Steamboat's frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

People tubing without a company can tube from anywhere in the river. Neumann recommends that tubers park at the Stockbridge Multi-Modal Center on the west side of town and just down the river from the 13th Street Bridge. Neumann said there is a well-defined take-out point.

Good put-in points for tubers who go on their own are at the Rotary Park and Fetcher Pond at the east end of town.

Regardless if a tuber is independent or with a commercial company, following the rules and etiquette is critical. That means everything from not littering and standing on the riverbed to leaving the dog at home.

Vertrees said to be especially mindful of respecting landowners along the river and staying quiet in the marked quiet zones next to the Brooklyn, Fish Creek and Dream Island residential areas.

"Respect landowners as well as other river users," Vertrees said. "It is just better for others."

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