Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail email@example.com
Steamboat Springs I always told the folks I was taking down the Piedra River that they were on one of the country's few rivers designated as "Wild and Scenic." What does this mean? No one really seemed to care. The near-vertical walls of the First Box Canyon that squeezed the early-running Southern San Juan runoff into a gauntlet of tight rapids were cause for distraction. Then there was the mellow run-out that featured a very occasional river otter and stops at natural riverside hot springs.
To my surprise, Bureau of Land Management field manager John Husband informed me Colorado has only one of the nation's 156 rivers designated for protection under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act - the stretch of the Cache la Poudre immediately downstream of Poudre Lake and the South Fork to its confluence with the Poudre.
This is where it gets confusing. A Fort Lewis College eligibility summary of rivers had the Piedra fit certain "wild," "scenic" and "recreational" criteria for designation, but Lee-Ann Hill, from the Colorado Environmental Coalition, pointed out there are basically three levels of designation. After land management agencies determine a stretch eligible, it can then become suitable, at which point Congress must make the final decision. The Congressional Wild and Scenic label provides ensured protection for the river's free-flowing nature and its "outstanding remarkable resources."
Or in other words, protecting the character of the river.
I went kayaking on the South Platte through downtown Denver last weekend. While I was impressed with the urban renewal of the green parks and futuristic pedestrian bridges that have transformed the rail yard wasteland I remember seeing across from the old Forney Museum (now REI), there still was that brackish water filled with spray paint cans and floating prescription bottles at the take-out. The point being that the river's "character" seems a little different than the simple "mountain river flowing into the prairie" that Thomas Hornsby Ferril described of the confluence in the pioneer days.
So at a time where our national whitewater center is completely man-made and the best surf in our town is on a grouted feature next to the railroad tracks and under a road bridge, it would be easy to concede the future urbanization of the Colorado's last major free-flowing tributary.
But the time is ripe to have a say in how the Yampa's true character can remain protected and managed for decades to come. Public comment on the BLM's Resource Management Plan revisions runs until May 16. This includes the agency's recommendations for sections of the Yampa eligible for Wild and Scenic designation.
In the face of thirsty Eastern Plains and oil and gas development, the right plan could eventually lead to the protective leverage the Yampa needs to retain its character and give that next kid a taste of what it's like to boat something wild.
Hill will present the BLM details about the plan at a public meeting held in conjunction with Friends of the Yampa, 6 p.m., tomorrow at the Community Center.