Steamboat Springs Community Service Officer Scott Schaffer explains the rules of the Yampa River to tubers, from left, Barbara Shortle, Alex Shortle, Mario Russo and Margaret Shortle on Tuesday at the Rotary Park parking area. The increasing popularity of tubing has created issues related to littering, alcohol consumption and conflicts between Yampa River user groups.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs Community Service Officer Scott Schaffer explains the rules of the Yampa River to tubers, from left, Barbara Shortle, Alex Shortle, Mario Russo and Margaret Shortle on Tuesday at the Rotary Park parking area. The increasing popularity of tubing has created issues related to littering, alcohol consumption and conflicts between Yampa River user groups.

Data collection efforts reveal significant July 4 river usage, littering



Steamboat Springs Community Service Officer Scott Schaffer puts a ticket on a vehicle parked illegally Tuesday at the Rotary Park parking area while tubers get off a shuttle bus.

— More than 1,000 tubers, rafters and kayakers floated the Yampa River on July 4, a number that could underscore a need for improved management techniques.

Steamboat Springs resident and avid flyfisher Scott Ford surveyed the river's Fourth of July usage as part of an effort to quantify the use of the popular waterway. The need for such statistics was raised this spring as local officials and Yampa River advocates discussed how best to manage the river.

Although Ford said Tuesday that the popularity of tubing and river recreation is a good thing for those enjoying the trip, he thinks it means the river should be managed as an amusement park.

In the past, fishers and tubers have sparred over river usage, but Ford said the massive number of tubers should be a clear indicator that user groups should instead work together to clean up the mess left behind.

Ford said he saw hats, sunglasses and flip-flops float by as tubers' "unintentional littering" accumulated through the day.

"It's really gotten to be - and there's nothing wrong with this necessarily - to be an attraction we need to manage more and more as an amusement," Ford said.

"I saw a lot of people having fun, and the river is a shared resource, and as such those of us who live here have to figure out a way to clean it up."

Ford kept count of the number of river users throughout the day in order to have concrete statistics to use in Yampa River Management Plan discussions.

"The popularity of tubing the river, I think the numbers are much larger than people may have given thought to," he said.

At an April meeting of the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission, the city agreed to increase efforts to write tickets for littering, parking violations and alcohol infractions but not enact any new regulations on river usage.

Part of the problem involves what sections of the river tubers use.

Commercial tubing outfitters are required to put-in at the Fifth Street Bridge or lower; many private tubers, however, head to Rotary Park and tube a much longer stretch of the river - including areas where the Colorado Division of Wildlife has dedicated significant dollars to improving fish habitat.

Private tubers also don't have the commercial guides to remind them of the rules and prevent alcohol consumption and other issues.

During April's discussion, it was noted that there is no concrete data to gauge how many tubers are using the river, and Ford agreed to take the lead in studying the issue.

Ford said he counted more than 900 users on one branch of the river after it forks near Dr. Rich Weiss Park between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. July 4. He said given the likelihood of at least 10 percent of the users floating the other fork, he estimates more than 1,000 tubers, rafters and kayakers used the river during that time.

In the time he was counting tubers, Ford said he saw one lone fisherman, floating down the river in a drift boat, surrounded by a flotilla of tubers and rafters.

"Is there user conflict? Absolutely. It comes down to if you were trying to fish the river on the Fourth of July or even (Tuesday) afternoon, there would be huge challenges," he said.

Ford said he did not see any intentional littering, but there were plenty of beer cans floating along.

"As the afternoon went on, and more beer was consumed, it became a mixture between Fort Lauderdale spring break and Mardi Gras," he said.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae said Colorado Division of Wildlife officers patrolling put-in points on the river called for police to respond to drinking in the parking lots and parking violations.

As DOW officers turned tubers with open beers away from the river, some would begin to drink in the parking lots instead, Rae said.

In response, police ran extra patrols and enforced two-hour parking limits at Rotary, Fetcher and River Creek parks. Rotary and Fetcher parks have only two-hour parking, and River Creek Park has two-hour and daylong parking spaces.

Rae said he was not aware of any tickets issued for open container violations during the extra patrols, but officers did issue tickets for parking violations and warnings for drinking.

Rae said any minors found drinking would be ticketed.

Cleanup efforts

Ford hopes to see user groups band together to clean what they can from the river.

"The more it looks like a trashcan, the more people will treat it as a trashcan," he said.

Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports and member of the Respect the Yampa campaign, said the group plans to hold a cleanup day as soon as the water levels drop.

"It's more effective to clean the river when there's less water in it," he said. The river was running at 529 cubic feet per second Tuesday afternoon, and Van De Carr said it's best to have the river below 300 cfs in order to clean.

He said he hopes to organize local groups to participate in the cleanup day, although he can't yet predict when the river will be low enough.

He said the fast-flowing river also was a contributing factor to trash because many people got tipped over or lost their belongings.

"I see our job with the Respect the Yampa campaign is to have people take nothing with them. Anything they take with them will potentially turn into litter," he said.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail


Courtney Lowther 7 years, 9 months ago

Hey Scott, you must have missed my boyfriend and I fishing from our rafts while our friends tubed around us. Make it 3 "lone fishermen." I saw plenty of people attempting to fish so that comment is completely inaccurate.


popcan 7 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Ford: We do not need more government control or policing us on the river. The 4th of July weekend is certainly going to have lots of people tubing on the river. A person may need to think about fishing somewhere else on the river when the tubers are down town. Perhaps getting up at daylight if you insist on fishing the river downtown. Can't have it all in public use areas. We don't need to be babysat at the river.


Scott Ford 7 years, 9 months ago

Hi Chortle220 and popcan -

Thanks for your comments.

The data collection time for this measurement period was from 11:00am to 4:00pm and only at the Richard Weiss Park. I am sure there were folks trying to fish elsewhere on the river. I would agree that early in the morning one can have the river pretty much to one's self.

The 900+ folks floating the river were concentrated in a period from 1:00 to 3:30. Over the summer the goal is to collect data so there is some idea of the magnitude of the usage. That's all. The Yampa River Management plan called for this data to be collected annually since 2004. However, the City has indicated they do not have the resources to collect the data.

Without having an idea of the magnitude of usage it is hard to make smart decisions. I do not think anyone is calling from more government intervention. There is likely some enforcement associated with existing laws, but deciding what to do about those issues is way above my pay-grade.

Realistically folks are free to tube the river. Yea! It is great inexpensive fun that I have done with my family. We need to recognize that for brief period of time during the summer the Yampa River is becoming an attraction much like one would approach an amusement ride.

That many people cannot be in the river without a lot of debris both floating and sunken being created. That is a big challenge. How to do we address this? I am not sure. The occasional river clean-up may not be enough. We need to be careful if the river begins to look a bit trashy folks may treat it that way and that is not a good situation. Agree?

Again thanks for your comments and your support in the effort to respect the Yampa River.


JustSomeJoe 7 years, 9 months ago

popcan - what we need is enforcement of the current regulations. If you call that babysitting, then so be it. I'm out on the river on a regular basis, and I avoid the mid-day crush of tubers. It only makes sense. Most of the tubers I meeting in the evening, around 6-8pm are nice, cold it seems, but nice. Some of them are holding adult beverages, and I hope they dispose of their litter properly.

However, I have seen the amount of trash pile up over the past couple of weeks. Hats, shirts, beer cans, cooler lids, plastic wrappers, beer cans, clothes, beer cans, etc. Tubing is great fun, I do it a couple of times a year with my family. However, anyone's right to tube the river surely doesn't supercede the current laws on parking, littering, open and containers. I don't think it's a stretch to say that tubers drinking on the river are going to create trash.

I think Scott's comments are right on the money. The city and DOW need to enforce the existing regulations on parking and open containers. As a fisherman, I would expect nothing less regarding my use of the river. I'm betting the majority of the problems lie upstream of the Fifth street bridge with the private tubers. If you are tubing and not breaking any laws, then there are no problems.


flotilla 7 years, 9 months ago

Popcan: You may not need to be babysat on the river. But there are plenty of folks who do. Scott Ford is amazing for spending his 4th of July doing this survey for those of us who actually care about and respect the Yampa. Your comment is unfortunately very naive. It is attitudes like yours that make me at peace with permitting all Yampa river activity so that people can start being accountable. Private tubing is out of hand and the fact that you, as a resident of this county, don't recognize that is plain sad. Thanks Scott.


popcan 7 years, 9 months ago

Yes flotilla I can account for where you and Scott are coming from and I may of come off rude earlier ... my apologies. But on the other hand, I am real sick in tired of being regulated. Why can't people for once figure something out on their own without involving a government agency. I use to fish the Yampa quite abit in town in my younger years. Tubes were not a problem. But then came a day, the worms were taken away and the bag limit also gone. REGULATIONS! Why in the first place did all this get out of control. Why didn't the city figure something out years ago when the tubing got strong? What are you going to do? Tubers have a right to be in the river too. I haven't seen any excessive trash on the river this summer so hopefully this isn't being exaggerated. When it comes down to it flotilla, it is about more regulating. People can't stop regulating. Kids can't even fish the river with worms in town, due to regulations. So what are they going to do ... they go tubing. Personally I just fish somewhere else. Another example I can add, when I take my fishing boat and rigs to StageCoach, I have to fish the south end of the lake at mid day due to the water skiers. I don't fight with them, I just stay on the south end of the lake and fish. If I want to fish the north end, I do that first thing in the morning before the water skiers get up. I may have more support on this issue, if the fly and lure regulations were lifted. Maybe then kids could fish with bait and take their fish home.


popcan 7 years, 9 months ago

Maybe another thought with this issue is to measure why there are so many people tubing, partying and not fishing anymore? Perhaps it is the upbringing of our young not to fish and hunt anymore. I have said earlier that there are more kids in school that can wrap a dope stick or smoke a bong then being able to tie properly a leader, hook and sinker on a fishing pole. I'll just bet that I am right on this. So maybe to reduce the tubing on the river, push some strong outdoor education with getting back into fishing, hunting and enjoying the outdoors. Today you have to be a lawyer and read very carefully the fishing regulations to be legal.


Scott Ford 7 years, 9 months ago

Hi Popcan You have a very good point and I appreciate your perspective. It sounds like you have been in town long enough to remember when the Yampa River through town (pre Stagecoach Reservoir) became a trickle during the summer months. After Stagecoach and more reliable flows during the summer months efforts were made to improve the fish habitat.
A great deal of the habitat structure in the river (the big rocks) were funded with "fishing is fun" grants with the help of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. A lot of volunteer time and club funds from the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers went into these projects as well. The catch-n-release and artificial means only regulations was an attempt to create a premier trout fishery through town. (This has worked out pretty well.) Recognizing that there also needed to be a "bait" angler outlet the stocking of Casey's Pond and Fetcher Park were increased. Each body of water receives thousands of catchable trout two or three times each summer. Folks can catch and keep up to whatever the state regulation allows. This is a great outlet for the kids in town.

I cannot speak for the DOW, however, I know that the frustration level is pretty high within the agency concerning the Yampa River / locally and at the state level. I know many of us want to be sure we keep the DOW at the "table" regarding the management of the river. They have and continue to be a valuable partner. Having been in several meetings with representatives of the City of Steamboat Springs and the DOW their input is largely ignored or only given lip-service to. They do not need anybody to rescue them they will just eventually focus their resources in other ways. Can you blame them?

I do not want to lose them as an active partner in the management of the Yampa River through town but we may. An indication that they are giving up will be the lifting of the catch-n-release regulations within the city limits. It will become a "put-n-take" fishery. This is being increasingly discussed.
The DOW will only provide limited support of the fishery through town by stocking a few thousand "catchable trout" at the beginning of summer and call it good. They will focus their attention and financial resources on other streams and rivers in the area.


exduffer 7 years, 9 months ago

We might as well ban skiing on the national forest while we are at it. Take a hike around the ski area in the spring before the grass has a chance to grow. See how many hats, water bottles, sunglasses, trail maps etc, etc, etc you can find. Where do you suppose a lot of this ends up? How about having our bumblebees man the put in spots during the summer. If the city says they don't have the resources call bull on this. These are the same people contributing to our tax base as the ones using the ball fields during triple crown. And to my fellow firsherman, lighten up. How many of you actually walk to the river downtown to fish during the heat of the day there are miles of public access to the Yampa that are not enjoyable for tubers.


flotilla 7 years, 9 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly about your argument on kids losing outdoor education and desire. It comes down to kids also not knowing where their food supply comes from, and not caring, because they have only known everything at their fingertips. Why not, instead of regulating, have a course in school about respecting nature and wildlife and our surrounding areas. If you have taken the course, you can tube the river? I don't know, that probably wouldn't fly. I guess I do think that tubing the Yampa needs regulations because I can't fathom any other way to show folks the importance of this resource.
I personally think it is a majority of the CMC students who are sent here to party and be babysat by the entire town of steamboat springs, including the ski area, their employers, and their landlords. Sorry, but I have seen this town, the mountain and now the river turn into a $hit show ever since CMC grew in popularity. And I am one who is for 2 year colleges because I still can't see that kids these days are ready for 4 year institutions. MOST 17 and 18 year olds living on their own usually ends in disaster. And I would be shocked to see any of them post in opposition because I doubt they care. I would love to be proved wrong.


Courtney Lowther 7 years, 9 months ago

exduffer-Excellent point! I agree that there are many other amazing areas of fishing also. "Bumblebees" LOL


Troutguy 7 years, 9 months ago

I really don't look at it as a fisherman vs. tuber thing. It's a respect the river thing. I gave up fishing in town years ago because of the tubing. We live in a society where the rules apply to everyone else but "me". No booze? That's for the other guy. No parking here? That's for the other guy . It's pretty simple. Respect the rules and we wouldn't be having this conversation. I rode to work on the bike path yesterday and passed numerous tubers drinking. One guy even had a tube for his cooler. Maybe if the city would take some initiative and enforce some rules, the river would be in better shape. Have someone stationed along the river and ticket the ones that have a hard time with the rules. It's not like they can reverse course and go backwards up the river to get away.


Scott Ford 7 years, 9 months ago

Troutguy Your comments are right on the mark. It is not an us vs. "them" issue it is simply respecting the Yampa River as a valuable community asset. Tubing can be a lot of fun for a family I have done it with mine and have built some great memories. The challenge we face is that you cannot put that many people in the river without debris (litter) both floating and sunken being created. As I said in the article, if the river begins to look like a trash can people will treat it that way and nobody wins. I think counting on a volunteer effort to pick up trash twice a year is likely not enough. Just like Parks and Recreation staff pick up Core Trail after a busy weekend the river needs some attention as well.

The prohibition of the open alcoholic container laws while in the river is being largely ignored. Without some level of enforcement there is very little reason for folks not to ignore the law. Why have a law if there is going to be no enforcement?

Like you I do not fish the Yampa River in town too often during the summer months and particularly during the day. I know that some folks do and I respect that.


oldskoolstmbt 7 years, 9 months ago

popcan- not everyone eats meat or fish..many are against even the 'catch and release'...the outdoors is a WIDE, vast area of opportunity..and choosing to tube down the river instead of your choice of leisure does not make it wrong, just you teach your kids to sew, cook, make butter, milk a cow?...or do you sadly go buy it at the store?..sorry, that may have been a little over the top...but it is my point...


jk 7 years, 9 months ago

old, that is the first time I have ever heard of anyone being against catch and release fishing.? Are you sure you warm your hands with lavender oil before you disrupt those poor cows for their milk? You don't make them watch as you churn it into butter do you??...sorry, that may have been a little over the top:but it is my point: Oh my I couldn't resist!


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