Kayakers throng to new whitewater park

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Kayakers in Steamboat are keeping a close eye on the "D-Hole" this year, one of the newest wave features along the Yampa River in town.

The 2003 runoff was so strong over Memorial Day weekend that it undermined large boulders and washed out the hole. The result was that the standing wave kayakers were looking forward to never appeared. Last spring followed the drought year of 2002, when the D-Hole, just below the 13th Street Bridge, never showed what it was capable of. This year could be the true test of the hole named after the nearby Depot Arts Center. Gary Lacey of Recreation Engineering and Planning supervised the complete re-building of the D-Hole last autumn.

"Park-n-play" is one of the strongest trends in whitewater kayaking, and it's thriving in downtown Steamboat.

There was a time when kayakers had to drive great distances and paddle through long stretches of flat water to get to their favorite standing waves. No more.

Now, paddlers can get off work on a weeknight and be spinning 360s in a perfect wave 20 minutes later. Park-n-play convenience is here thanks to manmade hydraulics like the D-Hole.

Longtime kayak instructor Barry Smith said he still loves to float a 1- or 2-mile stretch of the Yampa, hitting hydraulics wherever he finds them. However, Smith acknowledged that increasingly, local enthusiasts are driving to a parking lot nearest their favorite hole and getting in the queue in an eddy to take their turn practicing stunts. The options include the D-Hole, the new Library Hole a short ways upstream at the confluence of Soda Creek, or the original A-hole at the Seventh Street Ambulance Barn.

Never-ever kayakers can get an introduction to the sport at a pair of kayak schools based in Steamboat Springs. Contact Mountain Sports Kayak School at 879-87944 or Steamboat Kayak School at Backdoor Sports, 879-6249.

Visitors to Steamboat who have never paddled a kayak can enjoy watching the paddlers spin and flip their stubby play boats from bridges situated close to the action, or from the rocks on the banks of the river. The D-Hole and the new Library Hole are visible to spectators looking upstream and downstream from the 13th Street Bridge. It is an automobile bridge, but has sidewalks.

The A-Hole, further upstream, is just below a pedestrian bridge that leads to the baseball fields at Howelsen Hill. The heaviest stream flows and best kayaking are in early to mid-June. The action picks up after 5 p.m., when paddlers leave their workday lives behind for a couple of hours.

Paddlers seeking a half-day or full-day adventure typically drive south about 65 miles from Steamboat on U.S. 40 and Colorado Highway 131 to State Bridge on the Colorado River. From there, they drive about 13 miles east on the Trough Road to a river put-in point maintained by the Bureau of Land Management at Pumphouse. The float offers about 15 miles of paddling through alternating flat sections and Class II-plus rapids, depending on streamflow. Paddlers wanting a shorter float can take out at Radium or the commercial site at Rancho Del Rio.

For paddlers who want to spend a couple of days on the river, there is ample camping at Pumphouse.

The improved urban kayaking in downtown Steamboat has enhanced Northwest Colorado's position as a national paddling destination. n

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