City of Steamboat will abandon ship and replace Yampa River Queen with new playground
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Children in Steamboat Springs who want to play the role of Mark Twain and experience life behind the wheel of a large riverboat will need to gather their crew and head to West Lincoln Park sometime soon to act out the fantasy before it’s too late.
As soon as next summer, the city’s iconic steamboat-themed playground will either sink under a wrecking ball or sail away to a new home.
The Yampa River Queen’s fate was sealed this week when the city’s parks and recreation commission voted unanimously to endorse a plan to replace the more than 30-year-old playground structure with a combination of new interactive playground amenities and a shaded structure that might resemble a hay or horse shed.
Designers of the new shaded structure said it could pay tribute to the city’s western heritage and become a new gathering place for visitors and community members.
City officials said the River Queen has been anchored in the park for too long and is falling apart.
“Ten years ago, I didn’t let my kids play on that. I mean, it’s kind of dangerous,” parks and recreation commissioner Kady Watson said.
Former city parks foreman Kerry Kaster designed the River Queen in the late 1980s.
Kaster first built a scale model of the playground concept in a lift shack at Howelsen Hill.
Kaster told Steamboat Today last year he didn’t think the city should tear down the River Queen.
“These days, it’s too easy just to tear things down,” he said. “What would you come up with for this place, other than a steamboat?”
City officials are still working to finalize the concept for the $150,000 project to replace the River Queen in the park.
In addition to the shaded structure, other possible amenities include interactive musical instruments for children to play, boulders to climb and swing sets.
The project, which has included input from the Steamboat Springs Arts Council and the Tread of Pioneers Museum, could be put out to bid soon.
Commissioners who have supported the plan to replace the steamboat playground said they are replacing an iconic structure with another iconic structure.
But at least one commissioner felt the design for the shaded structure needed some work.
Holly Weik labeled the proposed design ugly and generic.
“I don’t think anybody is going to see that as a similar replacement” to the River Queen, Weik said. “I don’t think it has to have a steamboat theme, but it seems very generic.”
Other commissioners praised the design of the proposed shade structure, which could be lit at night and rented out for events.
In the meantime, the city is trying to find a way to have the Yampa River Queen live on in some way instead of just being demolished.
“The smoke stacks are going to look great at your house,” city parks manager Craig Robinson joked as he responded Wednesday to questions from parks and recreation commission chairman Alan Koermer.
Koermer wondered whether the structure could be auctioned away or donated to a new home, saving the city demolition costs.
“If there’s an opportunity to reuse the smoke stacks or the paddle wheel (in the new park layout), we’ll talk to the designer and find out,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the city would also entertain the idea of giving away pieces of the unique playground to community members so that they don’t end up in a landfill.
However, he cautioned the reason the city is replacing the structure is because of concerns about its structural integrity.
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