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New data provides better picture of tubing on Yampa River

Tubers head down the Yampa River in July 2021. Steamboat Springs is getting a better picture of how many private tubers are using the river with a camera that was installed last year.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A camera installed in 2021 at the Ambulance Barn on Yampa Street is giving Steamboat Springs city officials a much better look at how many tubers pass by that location on a tube, paddle board or kayak.

While the city tracks the number of tubers who use one of the three commercial operators to float the Yampa River in Steamboat, the total usage was previously unknown.

“It’s great to have these numbers,” said Open Space and Trails Supervisor Jenny Carey during the Wednesday, March 9, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.



There are plans to install another camera upriver, she said.

In 2021, the river recreation season in town was extremely short — lasting only from June 10 to July 8. It was shut down due to increasing water temperatures and did not reopen until Oct. 7. The restrictions are voluntary for the general public and mandatory for commercial outfits.



During the brief period the season was open, 14,321 tubers passed by the Ambulance Barn camera, according to Carey. Of those, 6,912 were commercial tubers and 7,409 were private.

The busiest days were July 3 and July 4, on which there were approximately 1,740 tubers each day.

In an effort to minimize the negative impacts on the Yampa River, several measures have been taken in recent years, including a $5 fee added to all tube purchases within city limits. That money is funding river education, improvements, and enforcement.

There was also an ordinance passed banning disposable containers in response to what Carey described as the biggest negative impact local officials hear about — trash.

“The goal is to protect the river,” said Craig Robinson, the city’s parks, open space and trails manager.

The theory at this time, he said, is that people who tube with the operators — on average — will be better educated about protecting the river and thus practice better river etiquette.

The new data was presented prior to the commission’s unanimous approval of six commercial outfits — Backdoor Sports, Paddleboard Adventure Company, Mountain Sports Kayak School, Yampa Valley Anglers, 970 Outfitters and C.B. Smith Outfitters — three of which are strictly anglers.

There was a debate about the change in 2021 from a daily to the month-long “flex” schedule for commercial tubing companies — allowing them to reach their allotments over a longer time period. The change was intended to give operators flexibility when it comes to things like weather and holiday weekends, Robinson described.

But with a tubing season of barely a month last summer, the consensus was there just isn’t enough data to determine whether that month-long flex period is working if it should be reduced to one or two weeks.

In addition, Robinson noted, it isn’t necessarily beneficial if the commercial operators have to turn people away — only to incentivize more private, less regulated use.

And even on those two busiest days of the season, said Carey, the commercial operators didn’t hit what would have been their daily allotment.

One change for 2022 is in issuing river operators a three-year permit, as opposed to one-year permit, in order to improve efficiency, Carey said, adding that most of the businesses have operated in town for many years.

“The the new operators out there,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Calder Young, “your job is first and foremost to be an advocate for the river and healthy relations between tourists and individuals using the river.”


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