Changes could be in store for floaters using commercial tubes on Yampa River
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Preliminary recommendations for a new parks, recreation, open space, trails and river master plan could bring changes to Yampa River users, particularly tubers.
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission heard recommendations Wednesday that will likely be included in the master plan.
The recommendations were drawn from data gathered in a community survey and community meetings. Of the 574 people included in the survey, 89 percent said they supported “protecting Yampa River water quality and aquatic/wildlife habitat by restricting river recreation when necessary.” Sixty-six percent agreed with “regulating the number of private tubers on the Yampa,” and 58 percent supported “restricting sections of the river that private tubers are allowed on.”
The plan suggests the city limit recreational use on the river when habitat and river health could be negatively impacted, in coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In this five-part series, we explore the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department’s draft master plan.
Friday: Funding questions remain for proposed improvements
The firm producing the new master plan, Logan Simpson, has predicted that private use of the river continue at its current rate or increase in the coming years. The firm suggested the city evaluate what it would cost to bolster enforcement of regulations on the Yampa, including permitting tubes or limiting the number of private tubers allowed on the river during the day.
Consultants also recommended expanding commercial tubing upstream starting at Fetcher Park. City ordinances currently limit floaters renting tubes from commercial outfitters to the stretch of river below the Fifth Street Bridge. Floaters using private tubes are allowed to put in upstream.
These commercial tubing rules were established in line with the Yampa River Management Plan in the early 2000s. They were intended to create a quiet stretch of river for anglers and wildlife watchers to use on the upper stretch of the Yampa.
“At that time, it was way different than it is today,” said Craig Robinson, city parks, open space and trails manager. “There was really not a lot of private tubing. People didn’t buy their own tubes so much. They actually went with commercial operators, and the commercial operators were operating on many stretches of the river.”
In line with another recommendation – to step up efforts to educate river users about pollution, protecting habitat and respectful river etiquette – the expansion of commercial tubing on the Yampa is intended to create what a Logan Simpson representative called “ambassadors” to the river to alleviate rowdy behavior and trash on the Yampa.
People using commercial operators are required to sign a list of operating rules, safety tips and river etiquette before hitting the water.
“If they’re guided, if it’s commercially operated, and they have instructions, perhaps it’s more enforceable and they become ambassadors on the river,” said Jana McKenzie of Logan Simpson.
“Having additional tubing activity higher up is something that I am concerned about,” said CPW Area Manager Kris Middledorf. “I don’t think that commercial tubing is going to resolve the private issue.”
Middledorf is worried by the impacts commercial tubing on upper stretches of the river could have on two conservation easements on that stretch of the Yampa, which contain specific language regarding use of the river.
Logan Simpson also recommended the city expand its management for paddlers and tubers to Bear River Park and add a new river access in the park. An additional management zone for the primary uses of fishing and wildlife watching would be added below Bear River Park.
If the recommendations are implemented, the Yampa River Structural Master Plan would continue to guide improvements to stabilize the Yampa’s banks, improve habitat and enhance accesses to the river.
For the most part, the suggestions for river management earned praise from Friends of the Yampa Vice President Ben Beall. He said additional access at Bear River Park will play into how the Yampa connects to the state park system downstream.
“I think the plan recommendations are awesome, in a lot of ways,” he said. “I think the survey shows that the community really values the protection and investment in river resources, and I think your open space acquisition (another plan recommendation) should highlight that aspect of the river, and it should also speak perhaps a little bit to the tributaries and not just the Yampa. That may be something that is missing.”
Logan Simpson will take feedback from Wednesday’s meeting to produce a final plan for the city. The master plan would need approval from the parks commission and Steamboat Springs City Council before it would be implemented.
This story is one of a five-part series about recommendations likely to be included in the Parks, Recreation, Open Space, Trails and River Master Plan.
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