Tubers float down the Yampa River in July of last year. This year high water has delayed the start of the tubing season.
Steamboat Springs Tubing still is not allowed on any Routt County river or creek, but some people are doing it anyway.
“It’s not the smartest thing to do, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Tuesday.
Last month, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins extended regulations on rivers and creeks until July 15.
“We have determined that normal or above-average runoff and/or water levels continue to pose a definite threat of increased incidents of water recreation accidents or injuries within our jurisdiction,” Wiggins wrote in the restriction order.
The partial-use restriction forbids using “single-chambered, air-inflated devices such as the inner tubes and air mattresses typically found on the Yampa River during tubing season.
Officials say they are looking out for the safety of would-be tubers as well as the emergency responders or bystanders who might attempt a rescue should tubers get in trouble.
“You have the potential for a multi-death situation,” Wiggins said Tuesday.
Record snowfall this winter resulted in high levels of runoff and flooding in parts of the county this spring.
“It’s pretty much running bank full, and I can’t imagine how cold it is,” Struble said.
Water levels may have peaked, but rivers and creeks still are running strong.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the Yampa downtown was running at 2,650 cubic feet per second Tuesday afternoon. That is significantly higher than the 559 cfs July 5 average. Commercial tube operators oftentimes are accommodating hundreds of tubers a day by now, but Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van De Carr said the river has to drop to 700 cubic feet per second before he can start inflating tubes. Even at that level, tubing is limited to adults, and they are required to wear a life jacket. Until the rivers drop, Van De Carr and other river operators are staying busy with their rafting operations.
Van De Carr said he has seen people tubing on the Yampa. They had wet suits, helmets and life jackets, he said.
“I applaud them for doing that,” Struble said. “That’s at least some protection.”
Tubing is sort of regulating itself right now because of the cold water, Van De Carr said.
“I’m pretty good in cold water, but I can only stay in for five minutes.”
Van De Carr said he personally has no problem seeing tubers on the river now, but it could create a bad impression.
“My biggest fear is the 12-year-old that sees it and says, ‘That looks like fun. I’m going to do that,’” Van De Carr said.
Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said deputies this spring have twice contacted groups of people who were going tubing and advised them not to. He said that is the approach the office has taken with enforcing the restriction order.
“Hopefully in the next week or two the water comes down to normal velocities, and we can lift the restrictions,” Wiggins said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com