Parks and Rec intends to focus on Yampa River policies through summer, fall
City hopes to implement a river ambassadors program this summer
Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission will take a hard look at a wide variety of policies related to the Yampa River this summer and fall, with the hope of being able to pass recommendations to City Council next winter.
The commission had a discussion in February about revisiting the number of outfitters that offer tubing on the river, as some outfitters currently barred from offering tubing expressed their interest in doing so in the future.
As the commission approved outfitter permits for 2023 at its March meeting, the advisory group signaled that it intended to review a wide variety of river-related policies this year, including the number of outfitters, standards for shuttering the river from commercial activity, and river health in general.
“You can look at potential ordinance changes if you wanted to, but then also relating it to river flows (and) river health,” said Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby. “That way, whatever recommendations you do give, you’re giving them inclusive to the entire river system. … We’re essentially talking about a whole river package and various decisions the commission could make out from that.”
Recreation on the river was a hot topic in 2022 when officials closed and reopened the Yampa several times due to low flows and warm water temperatures, which harms the river ecosystem. But some outfitters asked the city to reconsider what parameters are considered to bar commercial operators from the water way and to allow it to reopen quicker when metrics have rebounded.
Cosby said a consultant is already working to review those policies and that it would likely be presented to the commission in the fall.
The commission has also discussed making other changes, like increasing the thickness a tube would need to be used on the river in an attempt to require higher quality tubes that are less likely to pop or be carelessly discarded by tubers who opt to purchase one rather than rent from an outfitter.
Cosby said she intended to present a rough schedule in April that would lay out when the commission would review different aspects of river regulations. Cosby said the commission would likely discuss the issues multiple times like they have with electric bike rules before making a recommendation to council about an ordinance.
Open Space and Trails Supervisor Jenny Carey said the city did get a request from an outfitter to be allowed to offer tubing, but that was not considered because all the tubing allotments are already allocated to three outfitters. Cosby said that type of request could be considered next year if the commission opted to make changes and council put an ordinance in place.
Peter Van De Carr, who owns Backdoor Sports and has the largest number of tubing allotments, told commissioners he believed they should establish a special committee to review river polices that would include outfitters, city staff, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and other river advocates. He said he would help this committee in any way, whether that means serving on it or not.
“Let’s designate a group of people that are multi-faceted, multi-interested and do a legitimate river management plan,” Van De Carr said. “I’ll volunteer and do whatever the group would like me to do, including I won’t be involved if the group deems that I shouldn’t.”
While any changes can’t be implemented until next year at the earliest, the city is looking to implement a river ambassadors program for this summer, according to a news release sent out Tuesday, March 14.
The release says that the Parks and Recreation Department is looking for a group to run the ambassador program from mid-May to Labor Day weekend with the early focus being education on high water and rafting safety. When tubing starts later in the summer, that would be the focus.
“The Yampa River Ambassadors is a new program that we’re looking to launch in 2023 with the assistance of a business or nonprofit familiar with the Yampa River,” said Craig Robinson, the city’s open space and trails manager. “We’ve seen the success of similar programs on trails and believed a program like this would flow nicely in helping to further protect the community’s number one natural asset.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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