Local kayaker Brian Gardel plays in the whitewater of Charlie’s Hole on Tuesday afternoon. Concerns are increasing that fall’s repairs to the whitewater feature are not playing out well as river flows increase.

Photo by John F. Russell

Local kayaker Brian Gardel plays in the whitewater of Charlie’s Hole on Tuesday afternoon. Concerns are increasing that fall’s repairs to the whitewater feature are not playing out well as river flows increase.

Steamboat kayakers raise concerns about Charlie's Hole

Repairs to downtown water feature questioned as runoff surges forward



Water rolls over Charlie’s Hole on the Yampa River in front of Bud Werner Memorial Library. The hole is a popular spot for local kayakers this time of year, and has become a draw for swimmers and people who enjoy being around water in summer.

Past Event

Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission work session

  • Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 5:30 p.m.
  • Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs
  • All ages / Free


— Concerns are rising that fall’s repairs to the Charlie’s Hole kayaking feature are not playing out well as river flows increase, creating a situation that could affect upcoming boating events in a season with high expectations from record-setting snowpack.

“It’s obviously a bit compromised,” Peter Van De Carr said Tuesday about the recirculating wave commonly called the C-Hole on the Yampa River at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. “Unfortunately, feature-building is not an exact science.”

Van De Carr is a board member of the river advocacy group Friends of the Yampa.

The city spent about $27,000, including a $1,000 donation from Friends of the Yampa, for work on the C-Hole in November. Gary Lacy, of Recreation Engineering and Planning in Boulder, and local company Nordic Excavating conducted the repairs. The work was designed to restore the placement of boulders that help shape the whitewater feature and had shifted during strong flows in spring 2010.

The repairs were sensitive — the elevation of boulders at the feature is part of the city’s recreational in-channel diversion water right, which mandates flow rates on the Yampa through spring and summer to provide enough water for recreational activities.

Chris Wilson, director of the city’s Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said Tuesday that the repairs used the same design as when the feature was first installed, which he said roughly coincided with the city’s diversion filing in 2003.

Last month, in lesser flows, initial reviews of the repairs were great.

“It’s awesome,” local kayaker Dan Piano said in April. “They did a great job fixing it. It’s back to the way it used to be.”

River flows then were about 700 cubic feet per second through downtown.

The Yampa River was flowing at 1,760 cfs near the Fifth Street bridge at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, however, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That flow rate is well above seasonal averages.

People continue to ride the C-Hole wave, but the positive perception is changing with the runoff.

“There are definitely a lot of folks that are enjoying the heck out of that wave the way it is now,” Van de Carr said. “And there’s the other element that are pretty darned upset that it’s not like the way it was before.”

Kayaker and Friends of the Yampa board member Adam Mayo was less diplomatic.

“The rocks did not go back where they were supposed to go,” Mayo said. “What you have there is less of a pinch, less of a restriction, so the water just flows right through there.”

Mayo said the C-Hole “still functions up to about 1,300 or 1,400 cfs — it’s only when the flow exceeds that amount that the feature washes out.”

He noted that runoff should steadily increase for the next several weeks and river flows should remain above 1,300 cfs for the next two months or so.

He said kayakers are talking about the C-Hole’s condition.

“It’s a big disappointment to a lot of people,” Mayo said. “It’s the difference between having the 90-meter (ski) jump at Howelsen (Hill) and not having the 90-meter jump. It was the main feature of the river, and now it’s gone.”

Event impacts

The sixth annual Paddling Life Pro Invitational is May 30 at the C-Hole. The event is part of the National Freestyle Championships Point Series and is a highlight of the Yampa River Festival.

Mayo and Van De Carr speculated that the C-Hole’s condition could move invitational events to the D-Hole, slightly downstream, which Mayo said is “not as good a feature.”

Water sports are a significant moneymaker for local recreation, retail and lodging industries. Boulder water attorney Fritz Holleman told the Steamboat Springs City Council in fall that aquatic amenities such as the C-Hole can bring $7.2 million to the local economy annually.

Wilson said Tuesday that he and city open space supervisor Craig Robinson are aware of the problem but that little can be done in the immediate future. Wilson said he hopes to assess the C-Hole when flows subside.

“I’m hopeful that the assessment will occur in June, and it may be latter June,” he said.

Wilson said he’s contacted Lacy and Nordic Excavating.

“They say what we had as a design is what we built,” Wilson said. “They can only be guessing if there’s a difference until they can go back in.”

Mayo said he plans to raise the issue at tonight’s meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission at 5:30 p.m. at Steamboat Springs Community Center. Mayo suggested that sandbags could be placed at the C-Hole to raise the elevation of banks, but noted the idea could get mixed reviews.

Van De Carr said the C-Hole could continue to change with river flows.

“Once it goes over 3,000 or 4,000 (cfs), who knows what that thing is going to do — it may come back in earnest,” Van De Carr said. “There’s a lot of features up and down the river, and we’ll just pick the best one — the D-Hole is awesome, too, and the (ambulance barn) hole will be good.”

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com


Steve Lewis 5 years, 10 months ago

I can't vouch for the $ value to the economy, but the feature has definitely earned its upkeep. The boaters who come here for such features come here for the C-Hole. On a scale of ten, it was our ten and other features such as the D-hole are 2's and 3's.

Mayo is right, and its obvious to every user of the C-hole, the rocks were placed much differently this time. Particularly on the south side. How else can you explain the main wave becoming useless above 1600 cfs?

Lacy was able to make it great once. Don't understand why his D-hole never was that good, but he should be able to fix the C-hole in the Fall.


bigfatdog 5 years, 10 months ago

$7.2 million!!! not a chance. kayakers spend the least amount of all the tourists in Steamboat. They sleep in their cars, stay with friends or the very most Rabbit Ears Hotel and pb&j sandwiches out of a cooler. Great that Steamboat has kayaking in downtown but let's realistic about revenue versus expense.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Seems to me it shouldn't be too hard to find someone at CU interested in running computer models on the design. Would seem to be a relatively unique situation because locals are presumably willing to keep reworking it until it works as desired. So the professor could expect to get several data points to write a paper.


Scott Ford 5 years, 10 months ago

It is a hoot when we toss around visitor impact dollars. To quote a figure such as $7.2 million and think that is impressive is silly. As a community we struggle with how to measure economic impact and/or success. We are not alone almost every community does. So we all grasp at straws.

I guess this simply means that a water attorney from Boulder is considered a credible source of local economic impact information. Why not? I am sure he has a briefcase and is from more than 50 miles away which makes him an expert. This is often the criteria that is used to identify an expert.

If we use the daily spending numbers provided by the chamber's summer visitor survey - the typical visitor spends $73 per day.

There is no way $7.2 million is the direct spend from Kayaker visitor. Let's assume that the visitor here to do kayaking stays the same number of days our other summer visitors spend which is 3.8 days. So unless we are seeing almost 20,000 Kayakers over the "kayaking season" the $7.2 million is yet another economic number from fantasy land.

My guess is that this number is from some national study with a bias to make the dollar value from kayaking as big as possible. It is likely that the $7.2 million is a summary number after a host of multipliers (dollar turnover in the community) have been applied. These multipliers are also often from fantasy land.

• What we know locally -Visitor dollars are allocated as follows: o Lodging = 37% o Food/Drink = 33% o Retail = 13% o Entertainment/Fees/Other = 17%

Counting the direct and secondary impact of the visitor spending in the industry sectors associated with this visitor spending in the areas of wages/salary and local vendor spending, our summer visitor dollar does not turnover (multiplier) even once. In reality the multiplier (dollar turnover) is in the 0.2 to 0.3 range. Simply put, it is very difficult to squeeze much out of a visitor dollar that has significant local impact beyond sales tax collections.

To achieve anything even close to $7.2 million we would need almost 20,000 kayaking folks visiting the area. Do we really have that many coming to the area? I do not think so. We do not do ourselves any favors in tossing numbers around like this before testing them against reality.

Worse yet this group likely have the propensity to stay with friends and/or camp than our typically visitor. This simply means that it would take even more than 20,000 of them to achieve anything close to a $7.2 million annual impact.


Mike Lawrence 5 years, 10 months ago


I've posted the April 2005 report by Boulder-based Stratus Consulting above. Fritz Holleman has provided water counsel for the city since 2003, along with his colleague Glenn Porzak. Both men are partners with the Boulder legal firm Porzak Browning & Bushong and work on water issues with clients across the Western Slope. For more on Holleman and his recent presidential appointment as an advisor to the Interior Department, see Tuesday's story, here: www.steamboattoday.com/news/2011/may/...

I hope this helps the spirited discussion.

Mike Lawrence Steamboat Pilot & Today 970-871-4233 mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, the $7.2M number is ridiculous, but $500K is plausible and would help justify spending $30K or so to work on improving the hole which is also an amenity for locals.

What Scott F's analysis did not say clearly is that 20,000 kayaking folks visitor days is needed, not 20,000 people. So if kayaking folks were to stay three days then it'd take "only" 6,700 kayaking folks to have the $7.2M impact. So while that is still ridiculous, 500 to 1,000 kayaking folks visiting during the summer is not and so a number like $500K is plausible.


Steve Lewis 5 years, 10 months ago

The central question is not "how many $$ this will draw". If maintained correctly, it will easily bring enough visitors pay for it's maintenance.

For the original work and permit, I believe the City invested $10,000 for rocks and then Ed MacAuther donated his crew with heavy equipment. This last was $27,000. Being on the traveling boater's radar and part of the pro tour will bring that $ back several fold.

I guess boaters are less well off - only because so many of them are young. Do we only want to attract fat wallets to the Boat? When you're noting the paddlers ages in that C-hole eddy, take a look around at how many have stopped to enjoy watching their play in that freezing water. Where else do you get that? Its freestyle, its cheap, and its vibrancy in the heart of our town.

Its also the center of the River Festival, which brings its own rewards every year, with plenty of spectators.

Just fix it.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

Mike Lawrence, It is ridiculous to think that having someone you've hired as a lawyer that then gets a higher profile job is of any significant benefit. If it was thought he was going to favor Steamboat over any other water interest then he would not have gotten the job.

And the report itself starts off by immediately lumping kayaking with tubing and tubers will float the river regardless of the condition of a kayaking hole. So citing $7.2M for kayaking is not what the report suggested. The report is talking about the total benefit from all forms of water recreation.

And it appears to assume that tubers came to SB to tube instead of deciding to tube while already here and cited a nightly figure of $150 for nonlocals.

As they say, you pay a lawyer to tell you what you want to hear.


housepoor 5 years, 10 months ago

A family a four heading to Steamboat for a long weekend could include hiking, golf, mnt biking, kayaking and a trip to the hot springs, The value in maintaining the Yampa and it’s world class kayaking isn’t necessarily the $$ derived from hard core river rats coming to town for the C-Hole but it does put us on the map and more so it contributes to pool of amenities that Steamboat has to offer in the summertime.


Scott Ford 5 years, 10 months ago

Steve - A word of caution to consider. Not everything we may do to create, enhance, and maintain a recreation amenity has to pass a cost/benefit analysis as it relates to attracting visitors to our area. If our only focus with any recreational amenity is soley for attracting visitors and getting them to spend money what becomes the difference between Six Flags amusement park and Steamboat Springs?

I believe that it is a matter of philosophical focus. I think we win more often when we focus on what makes this a great community to live, work and play. With that philosophical focus visitors will come for the very same reasons we enjoy living here. It is funny how this works.


alaskansmitty 5 years, 10 months ago

As a former resident of the Yampa Valley, it tugs at my heart strings to hear the kayakers aren't happy, brosive. To be honest, $27,000 just isn't enough money. They should have been looking under every couch cushion they slept on during the winter to find some more cash so local water features could be way super sick since tax payer contributions weren't enough. Those super cool river rats deserve super cool river rock formations at any price, but maybe that's just my inner awesome-ness coming out.

I just wish I could be there to help them whine a little bit louder.


Troy Kuhl 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm not a kayaker but it seems to me that the city shouldn't be spending any money to make the Yampa River better for kayaking. What ever happened to leaving the river the way it was. Let's put big heavy equipment into the river and pollute it, that's not very green. Also a don't really think that the Yampa is a world class kayaking river, but I know everyone here that likes to kayak thinks that they are the cat's meow. Maybe we should call Steamboat, Kayak Town USA just like everything people in this town are good at. If kayaker's want the yampa to be great for kayaking, maybe they should raise their own funds and do it them selves. My tax paying money does not support kayaking. I would like my tax money to go to important issues in this town.


exduffer 5 years, 10 months ago

Can't wait to hear the whining when the sheriff closes the river.


Steve Lewis 5 years, 10 months ago

Scott Ford, I'm with you. My "with plenty of spectators." was an offering to the economic argument, and I shouldn't have bothered. The central question is not how many $$, or people, this will draw.

Its better to consider do these play spots add to the experience of our awesome town. Its about vibrancy in the heart of our town, but you said it even better (and let's be honest with ourselves): Nothing sums up Steamboat better than "play".

Of course I'm all for it as a kayaker, but I'm also gonna hang my hat on how sweet that half acre is.

Yes the play there was nationally famous for years. But it’s also the happy setting which conveniently links a killer river park with other parks, downtown. and a library. More people will probably swim there than kayak there. It’s also a great setting with dozens of seats, grass or rock, for those low sunsets hitting the railroad tracks late June. But the best part is those kids out there are just awesome.


Cooke 5 years, 10 months ago

monzaSKI -- I'm surmising from your screen name that you are a skier; therefore I am making a further leap in saying that your comments seem pretty narrow-minded.Do you think any of your tax dollars go to supporting the SKI industry in this town? Think the SKI hill uses up some fossil fuels running its lifts -- not very green. I like to kayak, but definitely do not think that I am the "cats meow"...whatever that means.


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