Weekend river festival to raise awareness

Friends of the Yampa present events for everyone during celebration's 26th year

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— For 25 years, Routt County residents have rallied around the lifeblood of the Yampa Valley, taking a weekend to recognize the vital resource that is the Yampa River. This year will be no different.

The 26th installment of the Yampa River Festival is this weekend in Steamboat Springs.

"This not just a boating event; it's to celebrate the Yampa River for the entire community," said Kent Vertrees, who helped organize the raft race. "The festival incorporates all the river-use components, and it's totally grassroots. There's local sponsorship, but everyone involved is donating their time."

The festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Friday with a welcome party featuring live music by David Harlan at Sunpie's Bistro, 735 Yampa St.

Event registration takes place at the party or at 8 a.m. Saturday in the Bud Werner Memorial Library/Steamboat Springs Community Center parking lot. Participants pay $15 per event or $40 for all of the kayak events. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Yampa's conservation and river maintenance funds.

In its third year, the downriver raft race from Fetcher Park to the C-hole provides a comical display of amateur boaters racing against the clock and competing for the coveted Best Costume Award. Teams can pay $100 to reserve one of the five rafts available from outfitter Blue Sky West or pay a $25 entry fee to race their rafts.

Event organizer Kent Mor--rison encourages all boaters to turn out for Saturday morning's downriver race.

"Canoes, kayaks, any downriver craft, it's open to any class of boat, bring it on" Morrison said.

Novice, intermediate and expert boaters are invited to the freestyle rodeo event Saturday at the C-hole, with male and female divisions for all three skill levels.

"We don't want people to feel intimidated. Kayakers have been out there all season practicing; get out there and have fun," Morrison said.

For those who don't boat, the Crazy River Dog contest provides prime river-side entertainment. Dogs will be timed as they fetch sticks thrown past a river buoy into the current past the 13th Street Bridge.

"This is a dog town, so everyone turns out to see who's got the fastest dog," said Ed Watson of Spiffy Dog, which is sponsoring the event. "It's exciting, because if the dog's not thinking. It'll go into the D-hole and get a little churned and turned."

The event costs $5, and Watson reminds owners and spectators that city law requires dogs to be leashed at all times.

A skills-based fly-casting competition will follow the Crazy River Dog event.

The river festival concludes with Sunday's slalom event commemorating the memory of Dr. Rich Weiss. The event offers a rare opportunity to see slalom race action in the gated course in the park named in Weiss' honor.

"It's a great use for the park; it's an amazing facility for a town to have," Morrison said.

Event organizer Tommy Larson encourages spectators to attend the peak of the festival's activities from about noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the C-hole.

"That's when all the downriver races will be, the dog competition will be happening and the expert division will be competing in the rodeo," Larson said. "We'll have movies going, we've got some great items to raffle off and Chef Rocky from Antares will be cooking up some great food for lunch."

Larson encourages spectators and competitors to consider the bigger picture of appreciating the benefits the Yampa River provides.

"From improving the fish habitat to planting native flora to working with the city to build the whitewater feature, the goal of Friends of the Yampa is keeping the river as pristine as we can while balancing our recreational use," Larson said.

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