Our View: Is tubing too much fun? | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Is tubing too much fun?

City of Steamboat Springs officials are leaning toward hiring river rangers to enforce tubing rules on the Yampa River, and we can get behind that initiative as long as the river rangers approach their job from a customer-service standpoint as opposed to a function of policing. And that's not intended as a knock on law enforcement.

We think that, instead of giving our guests citations, we should be helping them experience the undeniable appeal of tubing in a way that also respects the river. That could mean future river rangers should go through the Chamber's "service excellence" training.

There's no denying the town stretch of the Yampa is a significant part of a larger natural environment, which must be protected. There's also no denying the river is a magnet for several forms of recreation.

The city already has a track record of looking after the river's health. In an editorial written in January 2008, Steamboat Pilot & Today observed the city's new Yampa River Structures Master Plan called for stabilizing riverbanks against erosion and improving streamside vegetation. Since then, the city has installed heavy slabs of sandstone to harden stream banks in places where tubers and other floaters naturally exit the river.

Almost everyone would agree the pastime of floating the town stretch of the Yampa River in an inflatable tube transcends the simple pleasure of getting wet on a warm summer day. There's something about a lazy float that takes people back to childhoods spent in an era when life was relatively simple and free.

We'd hate for our community to lose that special quality, but preserving it means getting a better handle on the proliferation of public tubers who don't utilize the services of our community of licensed outfitters. Those public floaters cannot be counted, nor have they been held accountable for treating the river with respect.

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In 2009, local river users, with their hearts in the right place, established the "Respect the Yampa," movement to recognize the fact that the Yampa is a natural environment and home wild plants and animals. City Councilman Walter Magill observed recently that bumper stickers alone are no longer getting the job done.

Respecting the Yampa means doing everything possible to avoid littering. If all tubers used durable water bottles with attached lids affixed to tube handles, for example, there would be far fewer disposable water bottles lodged in the willows and bobbing in the eddies along the Yampa.

Commercial tubing companies encourage their customers to rent river sandals that not only protect their feet but, unlike cheap flip-flops, don't slip off the foot and go floating away to lodge between rocks. We know some tube retailers are offering very affordable versions of river shoes and hope the business sector will take part in the education effort. The Yampa needs more of that.

If, as we have heard, some retailers are selling ultra-cheap tubes that spring a leaks in the midst of their first trip down the river, leading to their owners to abandoning them — the Yampa needs less of that.

The city knows our commercial tubing operations sent 18,799 tubers down the river in 2013 and 14,791 in 2014. Based upon those numbers, we can only infer that many thousands more tubers are accessing the river on big summer weekends.

As a result, it's very difficult to put numbers to an answer to the key question: Is the flood of tubers causing harm to the river's natural environment? Or is the impact more on the aesthetics of the river?

Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs have both helped fund water quality monitoring on the town stretch of the river in the past. We should continue to build on that database to determine if the river — whether from human recreation or the impacts of development along its banks — is suffering.

Of one thing, we're certain: Even if it resembles one on summer weekends, the town stretch of the Yampa is not a water park. This is not Wet 'n Wild. This is one of the last wild rivers in the American West. And it's time to find a happy medium between recreating on it and looking after its health.

At Issue

Keeping tubers afloat without harming the Yampa

Our View

It’s time to engage tubers at the launch site