Ambulance kayak hole on Yampa River in Steamboat gets a major facelift |

Ambulance kayak hole on Yampa River in Steamboat gets a major facelift

Gary Lacy of Recreation Engineers and Planning surveys the reconstructed Ambulance Hole in the Steamboat town stretch of the Yampa River. Nordic Excavating placed the boulders that separate the kayak play hole from a bypass (river left) that should help both trout and tubers.
Courtesy Peter Van De Carr

— In the middle of a string of deep December powder days, no one in town this week is thinking about June, when all this snow will inevitably melt and course down the Yampa River through downtown Steamboat Springs.

But, the snow that is good news for skiers is also good news for paddlers and fishermen. And earlier this month, the city of Steamboat Springs and the nonprofit Friends of the Yampa collaborated on the reconstruction of the Ambulance Hole on the Yampa, just downstream from the footbridge that leads to Howelsen Hill.

After a Dec. 4 construction start, they got it done just in the nick of time, before all of this snow began to fall.

The purpose of the work was twofold — rebuilding the kayak play hole so it is friendlier to novice and intermediate paddlers, while creating a side channel, or bypass, to restore the ability of trout to migrate in the river, especially during spawning seasons. As a bonus, it will make that part of the river easier for mid-summer tubers to navigate.

City Parks, Open Space and Trail Manager Craig Robinson said Wednesday the reconfigured Ambulance Hole is the first of two projects planned for the stretch of the Yampa between Eight and 11th streets.

“We’ll try to have the Toots Hole (named for nearby Little Toots Park) completed by this time next year at the latest,” Robinson said.

Like the refurbished Ambulance Hole, the Toots Hole, just above the confluence with Soda Creek, will involve a drop structure that will cover roughly half of the river channel, with a bypass on the other side. Depending upon flow levels, it’s hoped the drop structure will create a hole resulting in a modest standing wave for kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to surf.

In addition, Robinson wrote in a news release, the stream improvements would improve access while creating low-flow meanders and pools in the river.

Thirty-year Friends of the Yampa board member Peter Van De Carr said the old Ambulance Hole wasn’t desirable for kayakers and was dangerous for people tubing the Yampa.

For kayakers, “It wasn’t like Charlie’s Hole near the Bud Werner Memorial Library, with a big thumping wave and a fluffy pillow on top,” Van De Carr said. “It was a foot-and-a-half ledge, and inexperienced tubers would lean back and cut their heads on the rocks.”

Gary Lacy of Recreation Engineers and Planning, who designed Charlie’s Hole, did the design work on the two new features in the Yampa. Nordic Excavating of Steamboat Springs performed the difficult work of placing boulders in the stream to create the new structures.

Robinson said the scope of the work is more than recreation. It includes bank stabilization and riparian habitat restoration. The work got a boost from Friends of the Yampa’s ability to land a grant from the Colorado Water Conservancy Board’s water supply reserve account, passed through the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable.

Van De Carr said Friend of the Yampa’s Kent Vertrees and Eugene Buchanan worked diligently throughout a period of four years to clear all of the hurdles necessary to reshape the river’s channel.

The rigorous permit process, which is required to build new structures in the river, involved review by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the city of Steamboat Springs Planning Department.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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