If you go
What: Yampa River Festival
When: Events start at 10 a.m. today and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Where: Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs
Cost: Individual event costs range from $5 for the Crazy River Dog contest to $100 per boat in the raft race
Steamboat Springs For river sports, bigger is almost always better. And when it's not, you've got to make due.
That's the philosophy driving organizers of this year's Yampa River Festival. The event, which moved up a few weeks from years past to coincide with the Paddling Life Pro Invitational, gets started at 10 a.m. today with a kayak freestyle event on the Yampa in downtown Steamboat Springs.
"On lower water years, the water level is more desirable than it is now, but that's just part of any outdoor sport. You've just got to deal with it," said Pete Van De Carr, director of Friends of the Yampa and a River Festival organizer for more than 20 years.
"It's really not that high," he said of the river's water level Friday morning. "And that doesn't mean if we got a lot of warm weather or warm rain it could be high, but all the fuss about high water, it doesn't relate to the Yampa through town."
Van De Carr said with lows in the high 30s and upper 40s through the weekend, the chances of the water levels on the Yampa being too high are slim to none. The festival invites outdoor sports enthusiasts from around the state to celebrate the Yampa Valley's founding feature with kayak slalom races, freestyle showdowns and recreational events including a Tube Rodeo and a competition for dogs.
Tube Rodeo organizer John St. John said judging the event originally was going to be based on who could hold on to a tube for the best 8-second ride in Charlie's Hole. High water levels have changed the criteria a bit.
"At the super-high level the river is on, we'll probably be awarding someone for the best style - style, effort and enthusiasm," St. John said. With safety boats, life jackets and helmets to keep things incident-free, St. John said the event gives thrill seekers who might not have the advanced skill set needed to navigate Charlie's Hole a chance to get a feel for the river. It's part of the public awareness for the river and its offerings that has fueled the River Festival for 28 years.
"The whole purpose of the River Festival is to bring attention to what we feel is the centerpiece of our community," Van De Carr said. "It's definitely a highly used recreational amenity. It's just so important to this community and there are just some high threats to it right now, in terms of pumpbacks and urban encroachment and water quality. We really feel strongly that our event is part of trying to keep it intact."
Eugene Buchanan, founder of Paddling Life, said combining the online magazine's third annual kayak invitational with the River Festival eliminates competition for both with other paddling events in the state.
"We think moving forward it is a pretty good thing, because it brings everyone here at once and it makes better use of all the volunteers needed to pull these things off," Buchanan said.
Concentrating professional and amateur paddlers will draw more eyes to the goals of the River Festival, Van De Carr said. In his decades of involvement with the event, Van De Carr said threats to the river have been compounded.
"Everybody wants a piece of water. But the amount of population and urban encroachment, everything is much more profound and much bigger," he said.
"There are more people and more buildings. There are more organizations that want a piece of the water. There's more agriculture - the pressures on the river system are greater now than they ever have been."