Clusters of tubers float down the Yampa River on Sunday near the Fifth Street Bridge. The river was barely flowing above 100 cubic feet per second Sunday afternoon, and its decline is expected to continue as hot dry weather is in the forecast again this week.

Photo by Scott Franz

Clusters of tubers float down the Yampa River on Sunday near the Fifth Street Bridge. The river was barely flowing above 100 cubic feet per second Sunday afternoon, and its decline is expected to continue as hot dry weather is in the forecast again this week.

Hope deflating on the Yampa River

Steamboat river already approaching end of recreation season

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— As the Yampa River grows quieter, Pete Van De Carr already is preparing for life after tubing

Barring a downpour, that life could start as early as this week.

“It’s a brutal year, and I don’t have anything good to say other than it is what it is,” the owner of Backdoor Sports said Sunday as the river behind him ran at 111 cubic feet per second, well below its average flow of 1,810 cfs for June 17.

According to a National Weather Service forecast, the Yampa River could slow to 85 cfs in Steamboat Springs as early as Wednesday. Once the river falls below that threshold, it essentially closes to recreation to protect wildlife and the river’s habitat.

With a quick end to the season looking all but certain, river outfitters are hoping for a deluge to keep the season going for even a little while longer.

“You’ve got to be optimistic,” Van De Carr said. “If we had any kind of a normal storm up here, it could change our whole situation within four to five days.”

But this week’s weather forecast for the Yampa Valley offers no such hope.

Travis Booth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Sunday that Steamboat should expect another warm, dry week.

“There’s not a lot of hope in sight” for rain, Booth said. “As far as this workweek goes, it looks very dry.”

He said hot temperatures in the 80s, low relative humidity levels and wind gusts up to 40 mph are expected Monday and Tuesday, which should increase fire danger in the Yampa Valley. The Weather Service on Sunday issued a fire weather watch until Tuesday afternoon for much of Northwest Colorado, including Routt County.

“With the ongoing drought, all the fuels are at very critical levels, and if something were to get going, it could spread very quickly,” Booth said.

Meanwhile, Van De Carr is brainstorming ways his business can stay afloat this summer without a river to play in.

Not counting Sunday, he said he has rented out about 755 tubes this season, a figure he calls “outrageously great” for this time of year. But if tubing ceases this week, he won’t get anywhere near the 5,400 tubes he rented out last season.

Meanwhile, Backdoor Sports and other river outfitters have been fundraising to purchase 4,000 acre feet of water from the Stagecoach Reservoir that is being offered to the city of Steamboat Springs at a significant discount by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. But Van De Carr said Sunday that he hasn’t yet heard whether the Colorado Water Trust will approve spending $140,000 to purchase the lion’s share of the water, and he feared the plan might not become a reality.

Without a guarantee of extra water, he’s planning for an abrupt end to recreation on the Yampa.

He said his early ideas for life after tubing include selling hot dogs and ice cream, or converting his shop into a grab and go eatery with seating for about 15 people.

“I have to focus on not feeling sorry for myself and see if I can come up with an idea to sustain my business,” he said. “It’s going to be a river shop with no river. It’s like being a ski hill with no hill.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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