Steamboat Springs The Yampa River was flowing at less than 870 cubic feet per second Sunday afternoon, and if hydrologist predictions are correct, the waterway will officially open for tubing today in Steamboat Springs.
A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said Sunday that barring any major rain events, the river’s flow in Steamboat is expected to near 700 cfs — the maximum flow for commercial tubing operations — this afternoon.
“The flow should then continue to fall the rest of the summer,” forecaster Ellen Heffernan said.
Heffernan said there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in Steamboat on Tuesday, but that rainfall would have to be sustained and significant to cause the river to rise above allowable tubing levels.
Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van De Carr said Sunday that the Yampa’s gradual decline means it’s finally time for him to transition from renting out rafts and kayaks to renting out inner tubes.
“It’s almost like we’re switching from a car dealership to a motorcycle dealership,” he said. “It’s a full change of business.”
He expects to start renting out the inflatable vessels Tuesday. The start of this year’s tubing season came much later than he, and certainly other commercial tubing operators, would have liked.
“We’ve pretty much missed out on the best part of the summer in terms of the number of visitors we have in town,” he said.
He said he rented out more than 12,000 tubes on the Yampa last year and isn’t expecting to reach that level again this summer.
At 700 cfs, he said the Yampa’s flow still can pose a danger to tubers.
“One moment you can be floating safely and peacefully along the river, and then you can come to a place like Charlie’s Hole and it feels like you’re in the middle of a washing machine,” he said.
This year, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins enacted restrictions to prevent tubing accidents and rescues resulting in what he called “the potential for a multi-death situation.”
Routt County Office of Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said that after the tubing restriction is lifted, he hopes recreational users of the Yampa will exercise caution and common sense while they tube.
“It’s still running a lot higher than normal, and I hope people respect that,” he said.
Many tubers took to the river this weekend despite the high water and ban on single-chambered inflatable crafts.
The Respect the Yampa campaign, a locally engineered effort led by Van De Carr to guide sustainable river use, discourages tubers from floating upstream of Fetcher Park. And the Yampa River Management Plan, adopted by Steamboat Springs City Council in 2004, also advises tubers to watch out for and respect other river users.
“People need to be aware of their environment, and there is safety in numbers,” Van De Carr said. “They should also watch out for rocks.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com