Steamboat group discusses tubing issues | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat group discusses tubing issues

Even in February, summer activity making a splash

Steamboat Springs Community Service Officer Scott Schaffer explains the rules of the Yampa River to tubers, from left, Barbara Shortle, Alex Shortle, Mario Russo and Margaret Shortle in July 2009 at the Rotary Park parking area.

— The collection of data describing the public's growing enthusiasm for a float down the Yampa River on a hot day has grown into a small wave. But the options for managing the phenomenon remain limited.

"There's no legislation at this time that says anyone from anywhere can't go on city property to go in the river," Chris Wilson told a gathering of about 20 people at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Wednesday night.

Wilson is the city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services. He told members of the Parks and Recreation Commission and interested river users that although his department enforces limitations on commercial tubing outfitters, it lacks the authority to tell private parties when and where they can float the Yampa on a lazy summer afternoon.

However, that doesn't mean city officials and river enthusiasts aren't trying to get their arms around the growing flotilla of tubers who float their own boats.

"What we've learned is that it's developed into an amusement ride," said Scott Ford, of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers.

Ford devoted most of his 2009 Fourth of July to counting the number of floaters passing Dr. Rich Weiss Park. He tallied the results in 19 increments of 15 minutes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and counted 903 "heartbeats."

Of the total, 868 were tubers, and 35 were paddlers in kayaks and canoes.

The totals do not include people who paid a tubing outfitter for their float — all of that activity launches farther downstream.

"It was a grand celebration," Ford said wryly. "It was a mixture of Mardi Gras and spring break."

Peter Van De Carr, of Back­door Sports, reported that his fledgling campaign to "Respect the Yampa" in the summer paid off with the collection of two pickup loads of litter thanks to 500 volunteer hours.

"The summer of 2009 saw a significant reduction in user conflicts based on our interviews, which weren't a scientific survey," Van De Carr said. "We need to be relentless in pursuing this Respect the Yampa ideal."

If there was a consensus that came out of the meeting (no formal vote was taken), it was that increased enforcement of alcohol consumption on the river could do the most to reduce many of the ills that result from tubing, from littering to disrespecting other users and the potential for injury.

Police Capt. Joel Rae announced that he had hired a patrol officer who will be trained and working a day shift by this summer. That should help his force devote more energy to watching the public parking lots that are the most popular put-in spots for tubers, Rae said.

"We know this is an issue," Rae said. Although his patrol officers on the day shift must be available to respond to a variety of calls, he said, he expects that the additional officer can help make a difference during peak tubing hours between 1 and 4 p.m.

When it comes to alcohol, Rae said, "It's not a crime until somebody has an open container, unless it's a minor."

During the summer, Rae said, he directed parking enforcement officers to devote more attention to parking lots at River, Rotary and Fetcher parks. The result was 331 citations issued in June through August.

The city also bolstered floater parking enforcement last summer by swearing in trails, rodeo, ski area and open space coordinator Craig Robinson and an employee, to allow them to issue parking tickets, as well.

Robinson also brought a new tool to bear during the summer in the never-ending quest to compile tubing data. Beginning in mid-July, he mounted a still camera with a motion detection camera at strategic locations on the river. The camera is designed to allow big-game hunters to learn about the habits of their quarry. It allowed Robinson to download photos and plot floating activity on a chart, without having to stand by the river 24 hours a day.

Wilson has approved Rob­inson's office for a second camera this summer.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com