Floating fair | SteamboatToday.com

Floating fair

Scott Franz







Blame your buddy who lost that hat and a PBR can in a hidden rapid.

The era of free and mostly-unregulated tubing on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs could soon be deflated.

In the wake of a fun and busy Fourth of July weekend, the Steamboat Springs City Council noticed all the deflated tubes and trash left behind on the banks of the Yampa, and it wasn’t impressed.

Now, the council is calling on its parks and recreation commission to come up with new solutions to curb the impact of the hyper-popular form of river recreation.

That could mean new fees, paid parking at river access points or other new regulations.

Recommended Stories For You

The topic of how to manage the Yampa has come up year after year, but city officials and parks and rec commissioners now appear resolved to push forward new regulations that would impact private tubers who can walk into Walmart or Walgreens, buy a tube and hit the river mostly unmonitored.

"We’re loving that thing to death," council member Walter Magill said of the Yampa. "Looking at the river this weekend, all we get is trash from this activity."

Magill said bumper stickers advocating responsible river usage and accompanying education campaigns just aren’t cutting it.

City officials also report the impact of a once-popular "Respect the Yampa" campaign has started to fade in recent years.

They are moving ahead with a plan to hire the city’s first river rangers next year to help enforce rules.

As tubing becomes more and more popular and impactful, some council members are wondering if more should be done.

Is it time for a private tubing fee, a tube tax, paid parking at put-ins or some other measure?

What floating looks like next year could be decided in the coming weeks.

A hot topic

How to manage recreation on the Yampa River has been a hot topic in this community for many years.

The 11-year-old management plan for the river goes largely unenforced today because the city does not have the resources to actively patrol the Yampa and its public access points.

While a group of commercial river outfitters pay a fee to the city and regulate their customers, anyone can purchase their own tube at a local store, hop in the river and float down largely unmonitored with a cooler of beer in tow.

As city land use manager Craig Robinson told the parks and recreation commission in January the city doesn’t have the money or the staff to monitor an activity that can send more than 1,000 participants down several miles of river in a single day.

"Right now, we react to phone calls, and that’s not helping the situation," Robinson said.

To change this, the city is planning to add a new river ranger to its ranks in 2016, who will be assisted by two to three other seasonal employees.

The ranger will be able to help enforce the rules on the river.

However, some council members made it clear Tuesday night they don’t feel the river rangers will be enough.

Kenny Reisman predicted the city would need at least 10 rangers to adequately patrol such a busy river and the Yampa River Core Trail.

"I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it barely scratches the surface," Reisman said.

Reisman and his fellow council members were interested in hearing about solutions that go beyond river rangers.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Doug Tumminello agrees.

"My fear is the river is going to be so overused, so over loved that before long Colorado Parks and Wildlife is going to intervene and cause greater troubles for the city," Tumminello said Wednesday.

Tumminello called for a work session soon to discuss possible changes to how the city manages recreation on the river.

When the river wanes, the clean-up crews arrive

Pete Van De Carr, of Backdoor Sports, is always amazed at the amount of trash and other items found in the river.

The number one most common item found? Golf balls.

"There are more golf balls than beer cans," Van De Carr said. "It’s not one you would think would be a big polluter, but that’s the reality of having these big golf courses right on our river."

Here’s a list of the things clean-up crews commonly find. Try not to add to it.

  • Styrofoam coolers

  • Deflated tubes

  • Bicycles

  • Construction materials

  • Clothing

  • Crocs

  • Beer cans

  • Flip-flops, lots of flip-flops

Lots of ideas

Some of the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission's most well-attended meetings in recent months have focused on future management of the Yampa River.

In recent months, local anglers, commercial river outfitters and wildlife biologists have called on the city to better police all summer fun on the river.

They’ve presented a range of ideas for how to do it.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Bill Atkinson said education efforts, like new signage, would just be a "band aid" if it wasn’t accompanied by increased enforcement.

Other community members have suggested new user fees could generate the revenue needed to get that extra enforcement.

So far though, no changes in the river's management plan have been implemented.

The council wants to consider possible changes before it approves the 2016 budget.

"We’ve been talking about this for decades," Backdoor Sports owner and tube renter Pete Van De Carr said Wednesday. "The tipping point will be when the community fully understands the value of our river and gets fed up with how it’s being treated."

Van De Carr, who helps organize annual river clean-up days with other local businesses, said he recognizes fees or new regulations will take some of the freedom away from river users. But he said it may be the best solution.

"It’s gotta come from somewhere, and a fee system for me is the most effective way to gather money to afford things like river rangers," he said.

Van De Carr and other commercial outfitters already pay a 5 percent fee to the city from the gross revenue they collect from operations on the town stretch of the Yampa.

The Yampa River Management Plan predicted such fees may be necessary to impose on private users in the future.

Written in 2004, the plan noted that "at present, there are no fees for private use of the river, but it might be an appropriate tool for future management if recreation use levels continue to increase and adequate funds for river protection and improvement are not available elsewhere."

In deciding what to do with tubing in the future, the council faces a tough task.

On one hand, the current freedom of tubing the Yampa and the ability to do it for free undoubtedly fuels its popularity. But some city officials are starting to wonder how much unregulated usage the river can handle.

Rules for the Yampa

Steamboat Today reader Robin David shared his suggestion for improving the recreational experience for everyone on the Yampa River. The longtime Steamboat resident suggested putting these rhymes on signage at drop in points:

  • You've got your towels, you've got your ride, sunscreen on and water supplied. But, please leave the glass and alcohol, too. Everyone deserves fun, and so do you.

  • This is the Yampa, and it's the only one, so please respect it while you're out on your run.

  • Share the river as you travel here, be gracious to the anglers you may float near.

  • Share doesn't mean you can go where you want; private property is not the place for a jaunt.

  • Plenty of wildlife makes this their happy home, so treat it kind, as if it were your own.

  • Remember, there is no one to clean up after you, so please, "pack in, pack out" is the right thing to do.

  • Please follow the rules and it be clear, the Yampa will be here for many a year.

River regulations discussed so far

  • Paid parking at put-ins: Some city council members see paid parking at popular tubing put-in sites as a possible way to generate revenue that could be used to pay for more enforcement.

Council member Sonja Macys said recently she did an informal poll of people at one of the popular river put-ins, and several said they wouldn’t be opposed to paying a parking fee.

  • Fees on private tubes: One of the most common suggestions from commercial outfitters has been a fee on private tubes. Some are suggesting a $2 to $5 fee for every tube. City Manager Deb Hinsvark said in an email Wednesday that a police department employee recommended a policy that is being used in Wyoming. In that state, kayakers, rafters and tubers must purchase a sticker to have on their craft in the water. If used here, river rules could be provided with the sticker, and it could be numbered and registered so that if broken tubes are left in the water, they could be mailed back to the owner with a ticket. The sticker could be purchased annually.

  • Relaxing rules on commercial tubers: The thinking behind this option is that by increasing the appeal of regulated commercial trips, more visitors would take them instead of buying their own tubes and floating down the river. One suggestion has been to extend commercial tubing operations above the Fifth Street bridge, where private tubers are already going down the river en masse. A local paddleboarding outfitter also recommended commercial operators be allowed to set up rental booths at popular river put-ins and take-outs to serve as unofficial ambassadors and educate the public about river rules.

  • River rangers: The city is planning to propose a new river ranger position in its 2016 budget. Council member Kenny Reisman said this was a step in the right direction, but he said it would only "scratch the surface."

w Education: Members of the 2015 Leadership Steamboat class made the stewardship of the Yampa River its main project. The Catch the Drift campaign includes the installation of permanent education signs along the Yampa River Core Trail and at highly trafficked areas of the river.

Stewardship kits containing items that encourage healthy and sustainable recreation on the river also are being distributed.

An amusement park ride

A trio of river outfitters sent more than 14,000 tubers down the river last summer.

Tubing is such a popular commodity here, Walt Disney World named one of its whitewater tubing rides "Teamboat Springs."

And late last month, the Huffington Post named the Yampa one of the 16 best rivers in America for "tubing and drinking."

"What we’ve got here, for eight to 10 weeks, is an amusement park ride," council member Scott Ford said. "And it should be managed that way."

He has also suggested that the city relax some of its regulations on commercial tubing operations to make those regulated trips more appealing to visitors than buying a tube themselves and hitting the water unregulated.

On July 4, Backdoor Sports alone sent 530 tubers down the river, and hundreds more private tubers joined them.

"The weather was just exquisite. We had this perfect storm, and the tubers just attacked the river," Van De Carr said. "That’s a scenario that just doesn’t happen often. But when we see that, it’s like ‘what a monster we’ve created."

Van De Carr said in the wake of this extra traffic, it’s time for the commercial outfitters to get together with city staff, retailers who sell tubes, property management companies and liquor stores to talk about solutions.

"We need to gather all these different people and say 'hey, this river is frickin the greatest thing. It is the centerpiece of the community, and we all need to take a little bit of an ownership in this river and keep it clean and safe,'" he said.

What do you think is the best path forward for regulating the Yampa? Weigh in on our poll online at SteamboatToday.com.

When the river wanes, the clean-up crews arrive

Pete Van De Carr, of Backdoor Sports, is always amazed at the amount of trash and other items found in the river.

The number one most common item found? Golf balls.

“There are more golf balls than beer cans,” Van De Carr said. “It’s not one you would think would be a big polluter, but that’s the reality of having these big golf courses right on our river.”

Here’s a list of the things clean-up crews commonly find. Try not to add to it.

  • Styrofoam coolers

  • Deflated tubes

  • Bicycles

  • Construction materials

  • Clothing

  • Crocs

  • Beer cans

  • Flip-flops, lots of flip-flops

Rules for the Yampa

Steamboat Today reader Robin David shared his suggestion for improving the recreational experience for everyone on the Yampa River. The longtime Steamboat resident suggested putting these rhymes on signage at drop in points:

  • You’ve got your towels, you’ve got your ride, sunscreen on and water supplied. But, please leave the glass and alcohol, too. Everyone deserves fun, and so do you.

  • This is the Yampa, and it’s the only one, so please respect it while you’re out on your run.

  • Share the river as you travel here, be gracious to the anglers you may float near.

  • Share doesn’t mean you can go where you want; private property is not the place for a jaunt.

  • Plenty of wildlife makes this their happy home, so treat it kind, as if it were your own.

  • Remember, there is no one to clean up after you, so please, “pack in, pack out” is the right thing to do.

  • Please follow the rules and it be clear, the Yampa will be here for many a year.

Tubing this summer? Listen up.

Tubers who hit the Yampa River should be aware of the following rules on the stretch of the river that runs through Steamboat Springs:

  • Tubing is discouraged above Fetcher Park

  • No glass allowed

  • No littering

  • No styrofoam coolers

  • Respect other river users

  • Respect private property owners and obey quiet zone signs

  • No dogs allowed

  • No nudity

  • No alcohol

  • Avoid standing or walking on riverbed