Festival celebrates the Yampa

River event starts Friday, runs throughout weekend

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While some people celebrate summer with barbecues, bike rides and ice cream, Friends of the Yampa choose to celebrate with water.

The 25th annual Yampa River Festival starts Friday night with a welcome party and ends Sunday with two races.

The River Festival began 25 years ago when a group of river-lovers decided to celebrate the river and all the things it has to offer Steamboat Springs. The River Festival still remains true to its origins but also has begun to expand its goals and events.

Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports and organizer of the festival, said the three-day event is intended to bring attention to the river.

"It's all about the river," Van De Carr said. "It's a form of recreation, it's aesthetically beautiful, and it's a part of our town."

Van De Carr has been involved with the River Festival since its inception and has organized it for the past 16 years. Friends of the Yampa and other volunteers and local sponsors also contribute to the festivities.

This year's festival includes two new events and one modified event. The Steamboat Springs fly rod distance competition is a new distance-casting event for fly-fishers that will be held on the 13th Street Bridge.

"We needed to get fishing in here because the festival isn't just about the boaters," said Kent Vertrees, manager of Blue Sky West.

Vertrees also is looking for participants for the downriver raft race, which begins at 11 a.m. Saturday.

"We're looking for groups of about seven or eight people per raft," Vertrees said. Entry is $5 a person, and the raft, life jacket and paddles are provided.

Also new this year is Sunday's Fish Creek kayak race. The event begins at 9 a.m. and is a 3-minute sprint that starts at the Mount Werner Water Treatment Plant and ends at the Steamboat Boulevard Bridge.

Van De Carr and Vertrees agree that the water levels this time of the year are the best they have been in years, and they are eager to see people out in the water.

"The water is awesome right now, and this is a pretty average runoff, so it should be great this weekend," Van De Carr said.

Van De Carr estimated that 400 to 500 people will come out to watch events or participate.

"It's a roll of the dice, depending on the weather, but I think it'll be a great turnout," he said.

The festival's most popular event, the Crazy River Dog long-jump contest, is newly improved, as well. Instead of simply throwing sticks into the river and having dogs retrieve them, the dogs now have a platform they will jump from, and their jumps will be judged for distance and style.

"This is my favorite event because I've got a crazy river dog, and it's such a huge crowdpleaser," Van De Carr said.

Events are open to the public and free to watch. Participants may begin registering for events at 7 p.m. Friday at Sun Pie's Bistro, which also is where the welcome party will be held. Participants also can register the morning of the event.

For more information, call 879-6249. To be part of the downhill raft race call, 871-4260.

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