Soren Jespersen: Invest in the Yampa

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In a recent article on the growing sport of stand-up paddleboarding, Scott Ford compares Steamboat’s section of the Yampa River to an “amusement ride.” But if the river is Steamboat’s amusement ride, then it is one that is running with little adult supervision, rotating on its endless loops while the paint crumbles and the supporting beams rot away. The Yampa River is the centerpiece of our town in the summertime. From Charlie’s Hole to the Core Trail to the riverside decks on Yampa Street to the outstanding floating and fishing opportunities found throughout its length, the Yampa River is the source and backdrop for most of our summertime fun. Without the Yampa River, the old Steamboat adage wouldn’t be, “I came for the winters and stayed for the summers”; it’d be, “I came for the winters … and left in April.” Although much recent attention has been paid to the future hopes of making this town a regional bicycling destination, the Yampa River is a feature that currently draws folks from across the country — to fish the world-class trout fishery, to tube with the family through town, or on their way to raft the famous canyons in Dinosaur National Monument. While the City of Steamboat Springs must be lauded for its considerable investments over the years in acquiring riverside open space, obtaining a recreational in-channel diversion water right at Charlie’s Hole, and contributing to water purchases that protected life-sustaining flows during last year’s drought, it still seems that more can, and should, be done. What is needed is not only a sustained investment in making the Yampa River throughout its length a national attraction, but investing in the dirty work of managing and enforcing the plans and policies we have in place to ensure that the Yampa River’s economic, social and ecological benefits are maximized. Whether it’s the still-unsolved catch-22 of summertime tubing, or the mothballed Yampa River Structures Plan, or the haphazard project at Fournier open space, the river continues to get short shrift when compared to other natural features in our town. One notable example is that not a single boat ramp or official boat access point exists along the river stretch in Steamboat Springs. If a fisherman with a drift boat or a family with a raft wants to float the stretch of river through town, they are forced to carry or drag their boats to and from access points at Walton Creek, the Transit Center or Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area. This lack of access not only discourages river use, but encourages trespass onto private property and into sensitive riparian areas. Besides a lack of public access in Steamboat itself, the amazingly beautiful stretches of river between Steamboat and Hayden are almost completely unused by anyone other than the well-connected outfitter because of a lack of access downstream. Towns along the Roaring Fork, Colorado, Eagle and Arkansas rivers have all managed to find ways to provide quality access to their prominent rivers while balancing private property concerns, but we here in the Yampa Valley continue to provide only rare and semi-legal access to our river. We could alleviate this deficiency with creative planning and partnerships with private landowners, other municipalities and the county, but we just seem to sweep it under the rug and hope that nobody notices what they’re missing. I have heard that the city has begun working with stakeholders to improve access, particularly at Fournier open space and Bear River Park. These efforts should be prioritized so that we can get ahead of the inevitable problems that this increased use could cause in the years ahead.

Soren Jespersen

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Brian Kotowski 1 year, 2 months ago

Ambitious notions, but I note Mr. Jespersen fails to address how they might be funded. Cheaper to paint a line delineating a bike shoulder than to build boat ramps. The required environmental impact statements alone would frighten most rational people away. And do we really want the rest of the nation descending upon the Yampa with their tubes & Schlitz?

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Rick Akin 1 year, 2 months ago

Here is a suggestion for Mr. Jespersen. You might consider forming a nonprofit to investigate obtaining access to the river and what would be involved in constructing boat ramps. You could raise money to buy access easement or maybe have easements donated. You could also raise money for boat ramp construction. I am sure there will be lots of hoops to jump through to build the ramps but you can figure all that out in the course of your investigation. You are much more likely to get the kind of result you want if you take the lead.

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Brad Luth 1 year, 2 months ago

I don't think Mr. Jespersen was trying to address how to fund the ideas, the intent of his email was to remind us all that the Yampa River is a tremendous asset to our community, and that if we do not take care of it and remind ourselves of the economic impact it does provide, it will begin to deteriorate. There is obviously discussion about how many tax dollars we should allocate toward building new bike trails, and investing in the downtown area, etc, etc but many of us seem to forget that our little stretch of river draws a large number of Summer tourists that stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, utilize local guide shops, shop at the grocery stores, etc, etc . .. all Summer long.

All of the towns Soren mentioned have great river access points (and many of em). Eagle county recently opened up several new ramps along the Colorado River that helps disperse river use across a much longer stretch of river and lessen the risk of certain areas being over fished and facilities worn down (paid for via GOCO funds). All of our neighbors to the South have decided to figure out how they can enhance the river experience around their areas, we should look at doing the same. I visited Bend Oregon this spring and was on the Deschutes river every day for a week . . . they have 12 designated boat ramps along a 5 mile stretch of river (and in the process of building more). They have obviously embraced the asset that naturally flows through their town and how it favorably impacts the local economy.

As far as funding goes, maybe it is more GOCO grants, or land swaps, or a portion of tax dollars from lodging, etc, etc, there are all kinds of options to fund these ideas. Maybe a local construction company would help donate and/or discount materials/equipment, and I am sure we could get local volunteers to do any necessary manual labor.

Thanks for getting the discussion going Mr Jespersen!

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jerry carlton 1 year, 2 months ago

Would more access and use contribute to more litter, less fish, and a degradation of the river?

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Charles Preston-Townsend 1 year, 2 months ago

Great article Soren. Rick, there are already great non-profits working tirelessly towards these goals. Friends of the Yampa is one group that continues to be the leader of river advocacy projects and has in their goals the addition of new access points both up and down stream of Steamboat. Volunteers are already hard at work jumping through the hoops, negotiating the terms and arranging the construction. Along with acquiring new access points, the Friends of the Yampa also organizes river cleanups, awareness projects and the annual Yampa River Festival, and continues to be the voice of the Yampa River. Thanks again, Soren for pointing out a tired resource that needs our attention!

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