Paint with the flow: New, 70-foot mural celebrates the Yampa River |

Paint with the flow: New, 70-foot mural celebrates the Yampa River

Jill Bergman cleans up one of the many vinyl panels that are being used to complete a new mural, that when fully installed, will stretch across the top of the Routt County Search and Rescue Barn located along the Yampa River Core Trail in downtown Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After almost two years in the making, a 70-foot mural depicting the course of the Yampa River has been placed on the back of the Routt County Search and Rescue barn at 911 Yampa St.  

Local artist Jill Bergman, who designed the piece, has spent the last three days carefully adhering pieces of the mural along the second story of the building with help from volunteers with Friends of the Yampa, the fundraising and motivating force for the $25,000 project. Steamboat Creates, which promotes local artists, has acted as an administrative arm. 

Perched on a mechanical lift about 50 feet in the air Tuesday, Bergman described her concept for the mural, which traces the entire 250-mile course of the waterway.

“We’re trying to show people that this river that flows past our town is connected through many different landscapes and communities,” she said.

The mural begins on the right side of the building with the headwaters in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and an illustration of Mount Werner, concluding at the confluence with the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument. 

On the left end, observers may recognize Steamboat Rock, a landmark in Echo Park within the monument. Two groups of rafters remain in perpetual mid-row in front of the rock, a representation of the popular recreation activities the river offers. 

Bergman, a member of Friends of the Yampa, began work on the art piece in August 2017. Hers was not a typical mural project. She used a fabric called polytab as a sort of canvas, which was originally developed for use in clothing. This is opposed to the traditional method of painting directly onto a wall. 

As Bergman explained, this method allowed her to design the mural indoors, away from the rain and snow. She could also separate the entire canvas into 30 sections, which made them easier to transport and install. 

By the following year, the mural was ready for paint. Using the polytab also made it possible for a large number of community members to help with this portion of the project. More than 120 volunteers spent the last 11 months brushing color onto all of the panels.

Volunteer Kent Vertrees, who is with Friends of the Yampa, straightens one of the many panels that will form a new mural on the top level of the Routt County Search and Rescue Barn.
John F. Russell

Bergman remembers taking 30 hours just to paint a single panel, though other, less detailed sections required less time. 

Kent Vertrees, president of Friends of the Yampa, spearheaded the project as a way to garner community support and awareness of the river, which the nonprofit advocacy group calls the “wildest river” in the Colorado River system. 

The name refers to the limited number of diversions and dams along the waterway. According to the nonprofit’s website, this allows for annual flooding and maintains a natural ecosystem.

Bergman illustrated some of the well-known wildlife that call the Yampa River home in her mural, including silhouetted sandhill cranes and a mountain lion lounging on a sandstone perch.

Vertrees wants this to be the first of a series of similar art installations in communities along the Yampa River basin.

Jack Legrice sits back and watches as workers install a new mural on the back of the Routt County Search and Rescue Barn in downtown Steamboat Springs. When fully installed, the mural, which traces the Yampa River’s journey from the head waters in Flat Tops Wilderness Area to its confluence with the Green River in Dinosaur National Park, will stretch 70 feet across two sides of the building.
John F. Russell

“Imagine a series of murals from the town of Yampa all the way down to Craig,” he said. 

Vertrees also helped to glue the mural to the wall this week, smoothing out any air bubbles as one would do with a sticker. 

“You have to be careful not to scratch the paint,” he said.

To Bergman, this final part of the process has been the most gut-wrenching. She and other volunteers have taken painstaking care to align each panel to make them appear as a single piece. After it is all up, Bergman will touch up any areas where the panels are matched up perfectly.

Vinyl panels wait to be placed into a new mural that, when fully installed, will stretch across the top level of the Routt County Search and Rescue Barn.
John F. Russell

Friends of the Yampa is selling posters and bumper sticker versions of the mural to help fund the project. Posters are $85, and the bumper stickers are $10. They are available at the Steamboat Art Museum’s gift shop, Lyon’s Corner Drug & Soda Fountain and on Bergman’s website

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo

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