The twisted frame of a canoe is jammed on the rocks of the Yampa River just past 12th Street. The canoe's owner, John Fielding, and his son were able to swim to shore Thursday evening after the canoe tipped. Fielding said he will wait for the water to recede to safe levels before trying to recover the craft.

Photo by John F. Russell

The twisted frame of a canoe is jammed on the rocks of the Yampa River just past 12th Street. The canoe's owner, John Fielding, and his son were able to swim to shore Thursday evening after the canoe tipped. Fielding said he will wait for the water to recede to safe levels before trying to recover the craft.

Caution urged on Yampa River as commercial tubing season starts in Steamboat Springs

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Visitor Robert Lott, front, along with friends Kevin and Chris Boddy float down the Yampa River on Friday afternoon. The Yampa fell below 700 cfs Wednesday, allowing commercial tubing. However, officials warn tubers that life vests and proper shoes should be used.

— Steamboat Springs resident John Fielding and his son will tell you that the 700 cubic feet per second mark that signifies the start of commercial tubing season on the Yampa River doesn’t mean a mild, lazy river float.

On Thursday, the Fieldings’ canoe sprang a leak and overturned.

“We got sideways and were tossed out of the canoe. Even though we were wearing life jackets, we both found it very hard to swim. I thought there was a real possibility of drowning,” Fielding said.

The Fieldings’ abandoned canoe is wrapped around a boulder across from 12th Street. It serves as a warning to residents and visitors that floating the Yampa should be treated with a bit more caution than a trip to Water World.

“That powerful current can be very dangerous,” Fielding said.

The Yampa River through Steamboat Springs hit the top end of commercial tubing levels Wednesday when it dropped below 700 cfs where it’s measured below the Fifth Street Bridge.

“The community embraces the river. It’s the focal point of our community, so it’s natural to want to be on it,” said Peter Van De Carr, owner of tubing outfitter Backdoor Sports and member of the river protection group Friends of the Yampa.

“It’s an economical, enjoyable, refreshing and fun activity that almost anyone can do,” said John Kole, owner of One Stop Ski Shop, a commercial tubing outfitter.

It’s the “almost” that those concerned with river safety think needs to be stressed.

“We make sure people are physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it. Ninety-nine percent of people are very capable of this, but it’s that 1 percent we’re trying to warn off,” said Van De Carr.

Van De Carr advised all river users to wear footwear and life jackets.

Steamboat Springs Fire Safety Chief Mel Stewart echoed that sentiment.

“Certainly just be cautious, wear your life jacket and don’t drink while you’re on the river.”

Aside from safety precautions, commercial tubing businesses also put emphasis on making sure the Yampa remains part of the Yampa Valley culture for many years to come.

“Don’t litter. Don’t bring Styrofoam on the water,” Kole stressed. “Be aware of in and out points so you don’t disturb the banks.”

“Understand the boundaries,” Van De Carr said. “People should observe the Yampa River Management Plan that says you should only put in at Fetcher Pond and below.”

Those interested in helping clean up the river can join Friends of the Yampa during multiple cleanup events scheduled throughout the summer to help make sure tubing remains one of Steamboat’s seasonal hallmarks.

“Our river is beautiful, clean and the centerpiece of town,” Van De Carr said. “It’s something that a whole family can do and enjoy.”

Jake Miller, a 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He recently completed his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Comments

John Fielding 1 year, 4 months ago

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A simple and effective way to provide substantial protection for those who will not wear life vests is to rent them multi chamber tubes. The rock that punctured the bottom of my canoe could easily do the same to a tube that hit it wrong. If I had not had my life vest and my paddle I am not at all confident I could have got out of the river alive. The stretch of river through Old Town is relentless, no slack water or eddies for hundreds of yards, too shallow to swim but too rapid to stand.

Be careful out there!

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walt jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Isn't the threshold under 500 cfm that shuts down the river to commercial business for tubing or am I mistaken? Looks like it's down to 350cfm now which doesn't make the season look too good for the business.

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Angie Robinson 1 year, 4 months ago

Walt, 85 cfm shuts down commercial tubing. 500 cfm is around the mark when commercial tubing can start.

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walt jones 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanks Angie.

At the rate of drop of the past week it looks like 2 weeks With this weather until it drops below the 85cfm mark unless like last year they beg to release water from stagecoach again.

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John Fielding 1 year, 4 months ago

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Yes, river went down fast. checked on my canoe this AM, found someone had pulled it out and left it next to the sidewalk for me, thank you. Still serviceable, amazing how that plastic bends back, but on the lake only from now on. The river at that flow rate is for different sorts of craft, or with a skilled partner if in a canoe.

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rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

John -- Real River Rats always told me to Face Your Danger, and NEVER wrap a rock, the worst embarassment for a River Captain.

Then again, I know your likely Support Crew, and you are indeed lucky to be alive!!

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rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

And Hey, here's how to fool Google: On their stupid questionaires, LIE!!

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John Weibel 1 year, 4 months ago

Tubing will be okay for a while not two weeks. Irrigation demands will drop soon and that should bolster flows for a while. Then hopefully the monsoons start after most haying is done and everyone will be happy.

Though some additional storage would be good.

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rhys jones 1 year, 4 months ago

More tips: As you approach rapids from upstream, opt for the ones that appear as smiles, as frowns often disguise submerged rocks, which you don't want to wrap... and if you do get dumped into the drink, try to swim ashore in the calmer stretches, but in the rapids, forget swimming, and get your feet in front of you to catch rocks, as you'd rather not catch those with your head.

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