Steamboat residents rally to try and save Yampa River Queen
November 15, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A campaign to keep Steamboat Springs' iconic Yampa River Queen playground afloat is picking up steam.
More than 600 people have joined a Save the Yampa River Queen Facebook group that was formed Saturday.
And the swell of community support for the 30-year-old vessel has some city officials leaving the door open to changing course on their pending plans to abandon ship and replace the vessel with something entirely different.
"If we get enough public comment, I don't see why we wouldn't revisit this," Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Alan Koermer said Wednesday. "It's hard to change the direction, but I think we could potentially be swayed if there's enough community input on this."
City officials have said the River Queen in West Lincoln Park is falling apart and needs to be replaced with a new playground that is safer and also accessible to people with disabilities.
"The city led us to believe there is no way to repair it," Koermer said. "We haven't seen any estimates for repairs."
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The commission last week unanimously endorsed a $150,000 plan to replace the boat with an artistic shade structure modeled to look like a hay or horse shed along with active playground elements such as boulders and interactive musical instruments for children.
But as news of the plan spread, a campaign formed late last week to convince the city's elected officials not to abandon ship.
Sisters Meghan and Kaitlyn McNamara started the Facebook group and started using the hashtag #savethequeen as they called on residents who valued the playground to write to parks and recreation commissioners.
"Surely there is some way the iconic structure can be spared while bringing safety and code into compliance," Meghan McNamara wrote to the city's parks and recreation commission. "Can't we blend the old with new? We don't need the West entrance to our downtown looking generic, we need it to look like Steamboat and Steamboat looks like the Yampa River Queen."
McNamara added that the iconic playground is a quirky reminder of how the town of Steamboat was named by French trappers who heard a chugging sound reminiscent of a steamboat moving on a river.
"The railroad may have stopped the chugging sound in 1908 but please don't be the ones to stop the Yampa River Queen from reminding us of that today," she told the commissioners.
Kaitlyn McNamara said she thinks part of Steamboat's charm is getting covered up by new buildings and modern structures.
"I think that keeping the Queen afloat is important to keep this town the charming Steamboat Springs that everybody loves," she said.
McNamara said she wasn’t impressed by the conceptual plans for the shaded structure and other playground amenities that would replace the River Queen.
Kerry Kaster, a former city parks foreman who designed the River Queen back in the 1980s and advocated last year for its preservation, appeared last week to have come to terms with the structure’s pending removal.
He was complimentary of the plans for the structure's replacement and praised the amount of work that had gone into them.
He said this week he expected some resistance to replacing the boat, but he was surprised to learn how many people had joined a campaign to save the playground.
"I tend to want to go with what the community wants to do," he said when asked which course he'd like to chart for the River Queen. "If the community wants to save it and preserve it, I'd jump aboard that boat for sure. The new design (with a shade structure), I could go with that too."
The River Queen was built sometime in the late 1980s, and its design won a statewide award.
Kaster said it cost $25,000 to build the playground.
City parks, trails and open space manager Craig Robinson said community members who want to weigh in on the River Queen's fate should do it soon.
The city is hoping to put the West Lincoln Park project out to bid in time to see construction next summer.
"If the community wants a steamboat, we really need the decision made," he said.