Our view: Yampa River not merry-go-round
Too many floaters are oblivious to the danger of the Yampa River at the peak of spring runoff
New river rangers are on the job just in time to caution unprepared floaters
With a new crew of river rangers on the job, the city and community of Steamboat Springs are on track to do more to protect recreationists who may mistake the Yampa River for a water theme park and at the same time, protect the river from floaters who don’t fully appreciate the Yampa as a living ecosystem.
We were sobered June 6 by the news that an unaware tuber on the town stretch of the Yampa River narrowly escaped drowning after being separated from his tube. His rescue required the efforts of determined Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue paramedics.
On the first rescue attempt, the well-trained paramedics tossed a throw bag with a rescue rope, but the man was unable to hang on, probably because his upper extremities were numb from the cold water. The rescuers gave it another try, and this time, they were able to reel in the man from the frigid river.
What went wrong? The floater and his companion set off on a ”water craft” that wasn’t designed for whitewater and without personal flotation devices. But even had they taken those precautions, they would have been vulnerable to the frigid water, which can cause hypothermia in minutes.
As Deputy Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli put it, “It’s not tubing season. There’s a time and a place for this, and this is not it.”
Under current conditions, Cerasoli observed, only river users such as kayakers and rafters with proper equipment should be on the water.
There is also a growing number of paddle boarders out on the Yampa this spring, and while many are remarkably skilled, we have observed, anecdotally, that paddle boarders don’t universally adhere to the use of PFDs, dry suits and helmets the way kayakers appear to. We hope paddle boarders, as a group, will also take more precautions.
How can people be so oblivious to the fact that they are placing their lives in jeopardy? We believe in people taking responsibility for their own safety, but we also wonder if the community’s enabling of private tubing (outside the locally permitted tubing outfitters) hasn’t, to some degree, introduced otherwise responsible people to a form of recreation with a potential for injury they don’t truly grasp.
No matter what one thinks about the heavy volume of people who float the Yampa on inner tubes during July’s mild flows, we think we can do more to keep them safe. Simple signs that read: “Frigid water unsafe for tubing,” might save a life.
Finally, we hope river rangers will be able to protect the Yampa by disabusing tubers of the notion that cheap sunglasses, bad flip-flops, discount tubes and “cheap” beer are not disposable items in the river environment.
Those efforts will augment the work of the 2015 Leadership Steamboat Class, which worked with Friends of the Yampa to install four educational signs along the Yampa River Core Trail through the class’ Catch the Drift campaign.
River flows can be expected to drop in the coming week, but the water will remain dangerously cold, and tubers need to use better judgment. The Yampa is not a merry-go-round.
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