Celebrate the Yampa River at weekend festival in Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “Rivers are where communities have popped up since we stopped hunting and gathering,” Friends of the Yampa board member Greg Hamilton said. “It’s cliche to say the Yampa River is the lifeblood of this community, but that’s the case.”
Hamilton and the rest of the volunteers who support the nonprofit and the river are in the midst of their signature event: the 39th annual Yampa River Festival.
The festival officially kicked off Thursday evening with The State of the Yampa Address, but the energy of the festival was brewing starting last Friday, when about 30 people tucked into a fleet of rafts and headed out on the Friends’ Yampa River Awareness Project float trip.
The festival continues through the weekend with river races and watery rodeos on the Yampa in downtown Steamboat. There will also be educational programs and activities, gear demos and food and drinks to fuel it all.
Friday afternoon’s kayak sprint Fish Creek Race was cancelled because of low water levels in the area due to a different culprit than has been lowering the Yampa in the past few years.
A cold May has keep the Fish Creek area’s snowpack intact, according to Kent Vertrees, president of Friends of the Yampa. But ultimately, once it does melt, the recent cooler temperatures and heavy precipitation will serve to extend the river season.
“More than likely, this river season is going to be one of the best ones we’ve had in three or so years,” Vertrees said.
Friday, May 31
Fish Creek Race: a kayak sprint event
3:30 p.m.: Boater check-in (Mount Werner Water, 3310 Clearwater Trail)
4:30 p.m.: Hard start
3:30 to 9 p.m.: Halabration River Pale Ale release at Mountain Tap Brewery
Saturday, June 1
Main Event: spectator viewing near 13th St. Bridge
9 a.m.: Registration (Friends tent at Festival Central, near 13th Street Bridge)
10:30 a.m.: Kayak race: open class/downriver (start: River Creek Park at Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40)
10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Food trucks and beer garden (Festival Central)
Noon: Packraft race (check in at Friends Tent)
Noon: SUP/Kayak demos (Fetcher Pond: Fetcher Park Drive)
Noon: Crazy River Dog Contest (check in at Friends Tent)
12:30 p.m.: SUP Race: open class / downriver (start: Fetcher Pond)
1:45 p.m.: Raft Race: open class (check in by 1:15 p.m. at Fetcher Pond)
2:30 p.m.: Raft Rodeo (check in at Friends Tent)
3 p.m.: SUP Cross (check in at Friends Tent)
3:30 p.m.: Tube Rodeo (check in at Friends Tent)
4 p.m.: Kayak Cross (check in at Friends Tent)
5 p.m.: Kayak Biggest Trick (check in at Friends Tent)
6:30 p.m.: Awards (announcer’s table, near 13th Street Bridge)
Sunday, June 2
Kayak Slalom (spectator viewing at Rich Weiss Park)
Noon: Race starts (Rich Weiss Park, 125 Lincoln Ave.)
Saturday is a day packed with events, beginning with an open class downriver kayak race and running all day, until it’s time for awards at 6:30 p.m. All races are free to spectators.
The raft rodeo and tube rodeo are the festival’s most tried and true crowd pleasers, in Friends of the Yampa board member Mitch Stypinski’s opinion.
But there’s one festival event still in its infancy, and it could use some community support.
“Last year’s packraft race was the first in Colorado,” Vertrees said. “One person signed up.”
While the single competitor participated in the “pack raft-a-thon” wholeheartedly and unshockingly emerged in first place, festival organizers are hoping to up the contest’s number of racers.
“All you people with packrafts out there — let’s make this a full, fun event,” Stypinski said.
The weekend events conclude Sunday with the kayak slalom.
Conditions for the weekend festival are expected to be ideal.
“We have great snowpack, the flows are perfect, and the weekend temperatures look good,” Vertrees said. “Everything is lining up nicely.”
The climate beyond the weather may also be at play for a well-attended festival.
“It seems like water issues are headline news right now, especially after last summer’s call (limiting water recreation) on the Yampa,” Hamilton said. “I think that was a wake-up call; we don’t have unlimited water forever.”
Booths hosted by local organizations will line the Yampa, welcoming festival-goers to stop by and learn a bit more about the river. Booth hosts include environmental education nonprofit Yampatika, conservation group Trout Unlimited, Yampa Valley Fly Fishers and more.
“We like our adrenaline, we like our exploration and our adventures,” Vertrees said, “but the river is way more than that. Recreation can be a gateway to finding people’s advocacy for the Yampa River.
“Fortunately, we live in a community that really elevates the Yampa River and considers the Yampa’s health at a high level,” Vertrees said.
Volunteers are still needed for festival tasks including directing traffic, working shifts in various information booths and pouring beer (volunteer beer-pourers must be TIPS-certified). Those interested in volunteering at the festival may register at signup.com or call or text Mitch Stypinski at 970-986-7428.
To volunteer, visit signup.com/go/wjvsCWC.
With questions, call or text Mitch Stypinski at 970-986-7428.
“The more, the merrier,” Stypinski said.
Yampa River-related festivities continue even after the weekend.
The Yampa Basin Rendezvous, a dialogue-based conference about climate projections and community resilience building, is set for Tuesday, June 4, and Wednesday, June 5, at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. The event will connect Colorado River Basin-based students, researchers, institutions and community members. More Yampa River-celebrating events will continue throughout the summer.
“We have this wild river flowing right through our town,” Stypinski said. “We’re going to spend the whole weekend celebrating it and showing our community support for it.”
Learn more at FriendsOfTheYampa.com.
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