Boat access is inadequate on Yampa River, but the solutions are pricey

nstructors and participants in the Yampa River Youth Camp make their way past Charlie's Hole June 14, 2022.
Instructors and participants in the Yampa River Youth Camp make their way past Charlie's Hole on Thursday, June 14, 2022. Commercial and private rafters have little options for putting in and taking out of the Yampa in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

While the city provides many access points on the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs lacks any public access ramps for trailered boats such as rafts and dories.

“The facilities that we provide as a river community, as a city, are subpar to what we see in any communities similar to ours around the state or our region,” said Routt County boater Todd Givnish to the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission during a meeting on Wednesday, July 13.

Craig Robinson, the open space and trails manager for the city, spoke before the commission about opportunities to develop and improve river access.

Trailered boat access — a longtime priority among the city’s staff according to Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby — could be added at Bear River Park. 

Included in the 2016 Bear River Park Master Plan is a trailered boat access ramp estimated to cost $2 million, but no commitment has been made by the city for its inclusion. Cosby said trailered boat access has been on the city’s radar for 17 years, but hasn’t become a high enough priority to receive funding among the city’s many capital projects and services. 

“It isn’t at the top of the list,” said Cosby. “That’s why it’s been on the to-do list for 17 years.”

The $2 million estimate only considers the cost of the ramp itself. Before anything else is built at Bear River Park, according to Cosby, the city would have to  invest an estimated $4.7 million for projects such as the design process, constructing secondary access for safety, building restrooms and performing ground work. 

Altogether, the conceptual plan for Bear River Park amounts to almost $13 million, which Cosby said would ideally be broken down into three $5 million chunks, but not everything from the conceptual plan would be needed for constructing the boat ramp.

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Cosby did express optimism, saying the city recently updated its Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan Scoring Matrix, which sets criteria for prioritizing capital improvement projects. The new plan places greater emphasis on projects that increase diversity, equity and inclusion, which could be good news for those wanting a boat ramp at Bear River Park.

“Since we are underserving our west population, this (ramp) will probably rank a little higher,” said Cosby. “Whether it’s high enough for funding, I don’t know yet.”

Friends of the Yampa reached out to the city and said it would be willing to help the city fund a ramp at Bear River Park. Cosby said the city’s grants team has identified opportunities for grants for which the city might be eligible.

Besides the large price tag, there are other concerns about building a paved ramp at Bear River Park.

John Saul, who lives along the river on Riverside Drive near Bear River Park, spoke before the commission to recommend considering the environmental effects of paving a ramp near his neighborhood.

“It is a wetlands area,” said Saul. “It’s an animal corridor.”

Saul also asked the commission to consider the effects a concrete ramp would have on the floodplain. 

Robinson assured the commission that the effects on the wetlands would be mitigated as best as possible, as would be required by city policy.

The Steamboat Springs KOA Holiday offers the only trailered boat access ramp in town, but it’s on private property, charges a fee, and was closed for a chunk of the summer during site maintenance. 

The boat ramp at the KOA also lacks parking to accommodate all the boaters and commercial outfitters floating the river. Many boaters resorted to parking their trailers elsewhere, such as the gravel lot off of U.S. Highway 40 in front of Snow Bowl Steamboat. 

Providing access points upstream for better put-in access is also a priority in the boating community.

The city worked with Friends of the Yampa in making access improvements at River Creek Park at the confluence of Walton Creek and the Yampa River. The improvements allow members of the public to park their trailers near the edge of the creek, but boaters still have to put their boat in the water by hand. 

In 2021, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council started a feasibility study along with the city, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to assess options for decreasing pike habitats near River Creek Park and improving river access, which would include a boat ramp. 

Even if the trailered boat access at River Creek Park moves forward, members of the boating community hope that both projects are funded. Any action on a new, public boat ramp would be approved by Steamboat Springs City Council.

“Above Walton Creek there is a very low clearance bridge that limits the ability to use the Walton Creek ramp as a take-out,” said Givnish. “For many users, Walton Creek will be a put-in, Bear River will be a take-out.”

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