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 in July 2009 at the Rotary Park parking area.

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 in July 2009 at the Rotary Park parking area.

Steamboat group discusses tubing issues

Even in February, summer activity making a splash


— The collection of data describing the public’s growing enthusiasm for a float down the Yampa River on a hot day has grown into a small wave. But the options for managing the phenomenon remain limited.

“There’s no legislation at this time that says anyone from anywhere can’t go on city property to go in the river,” Chris Wilson told a gathering of about 20 people at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Wednesday night.

Wilson is the city’s director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services. He told members of the Parks and Recreation Commission and interested river users that although his department enforces limitations on commercial tubing outfitters, it lacks the authority to tell private parties when and where they can float the Yampa on a lazy summer afternoon.

However, that doesn’t mean city officials and river enthusiasts aren’t trying to get their arms around the growing flotilla of tubers who float their own boats.

“What we’ve learned is that it’s developed into an amusement ride,” said Scott Ford, of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers.

Ford devoted most of his 2009 Fourth of July to counting the number of floaters passing Dr. Rich Weiss Park. He tallied the results in 19 increments of 15 minutes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and counted 903 “heartbeats.”

Of the total, 868 were tubers, and 35 were paddlers in kayaks and canoes.

The totals do not include people who paid a tubing outfitter for their float — all of that activity launches farther downstream.

“It was a grand celebration,” Ford said wryly. “It was a mixture of Mardi Gras and spring break.”

Peter Van De Carr, of Back­door Sports, reported that his fledgling campaign to “Respect the Yampa” in the summer paid off with the collection of two pickup loads of litter thanks to 500 volunteer hours.

“The summer of 2009 saw a significant reduction in user conflicts based on our interviews, which weren’t a scientific survey,” Van De Carr said. “We need to be relentless in pursuing this Respect the Yampa ideal.”

If there was a consensus that came out of the meeting (no formal vote was taken), it was that increased enforcement of alcohol consumption on the river could do the most to reduce many of the ills that result from tubing, from littering to disrespecting other users and the potential for injury.

Police Capt. Joel Rae announced that he had hired a patrol officer who will be trained and working a day shift by this summer. That should help his force devote more energy to watching the public parking lots that are the most popular put-in spots for tubers, Rae said.

“We know this is an issue,” Rae said. Although his patrol officers on the day shift must be available to respond to a variety of calls, he said, he expects that the additional officer can help make a difference during peak tubing hours between 1 and 4 p.m.

When it comes to alcohol, Rae said, “It’s not a crime until somebody has an open container, unless it’s a minor.”

During the summer, Rae said, he directed parking enforcement officers to devote more attention to parking lots at River, Rotary and Fetcher parks. The result was 331 citations issued in June through August.

The city also bolstered floater parking enforcement last summer by swearing in trails, rodeo, ski area and open space coordinator Craig Robinson and an employee, to allow them to issue parking tickets, as well.

Robinson also brought a new tool to bear during the summer in the never-ending quest to compile tubing data. Beginning in mid-July, he mounted a still camera with a motion detection camera at strategic locations on the river. The camera is designed to allow big-game hunters to learn about the habits of their quarry. It allowed Robinson to download photos and plot floating activity on a chart, without having to stand by the river 24 hours a day.

Wilson has approved Rob­inson’s office for a second camera this summer.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail


mmjPatient22 7 years, 3 months ago

Any way we could get some more 411 posted on the "Respect the Yampa" thing for those that are interested in helping out this year? Tubing is becoming something of a past time up here and more&more people seem to be finding themselves enjoying our beautiful Yampa. Hopefully we can make sure that they are all provided with ample opportunity to clean up after themselves.


Glenn Little II 7 years, 3 months ago



freeskiingbeing 7 years, 3 months ago

Being a local here in town definitely has its perks. You don't get carded at sunpies anymore, the guys at BCP always know what you're ordering when you walk in the door, and we have easy access to a beautiful stretch of the Yampa River. While I mostly "use" the Yampa for swimming with my dog every afternoon and cooling off with a quick dip after a bike ride, I am also what you could call an avid tuber. Every "weekend" (a.k.a. days I happen to have off that week) I can be found inflating my tube on my front porch steps, hiking the short distance to my favorite drop in (away from the crowds, of course), and then blissfully letting the river take me where it may. Being carried by the waters is a beautiful and rare kind of peace. Protecting this wonderful gift we've all been given is paramount. As a tuber, I believe that beer cans, bottles, and trash are the worst things we could put into our river. Educating visitors (and some locals) about the use of plastic or aluminum bottles that attach to your tube and the grand invention of zip ties could be a great alternative for everyone to use. I can't count the times I've been on the river and seen the "most prepared" tuber accidently flip and scatter their sunglasses, water bottle, and flip flops! (Anyone heard of crocs, tevas, or keens?) Lesson from the cans and the clutter? ATTACH EVERYTHING TO YOUR TUBE! STRAP IT DOWN, CLIP IT ON!!!! Futhermore, I would also like to point out that tubers are not the only culprits of trashing the Yampa. On multiple occasions I have found the fly fishers, the "great patrons of the river," to be tainting the waters as well. Whether its an empty spool of line or a circle of 10-25 cigarette butts where a chain smoker stood, the proof is there. Just saying- point a finger at us and you've got 3 pointing back at you... Working together on this issue is the only way that it can possibly be resolved. Residents of this town do share a higher regard for nature and our surroundings than I've observed in most visitors. Passing our knowledge and respect on to visiting river enthusiasts is the best way to ensure the future of the Yampa River. However, limiting the drop in points (above such an such to below this and that) is not a step towards decreasing river littering, but instead towards the prominent fishermen in town to be coddled and given authority to be "stingy" with the river. (What? Tubers really ruin your day? I still see you guys catching fish. Isn't that the point?) There is enough river for everyone to use. Again, increasing public awareness of SHARING the river with fishermen (paddling to the other side of the river when you see an upcoming fishermen) would be the most productive way to solve the issue. Respect the Yampa is a great initiative to curb this problem... but more trash cans along the stretch couldn't hurt either!


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