River ranger and fees among the ideas floated to improve stewardship of Yampa River

Scott Franz
Anglers and tubers enjoy the Yampa River in the summer near Steamboat Springs.
Scott Franz

— River rats and city officials in Steamboat Springs are brainstorming ways to reduce the negative impacts from all the summer fun on the Yampa River.

Some in the community think a Respect the Yampa campaign that started in 2009 is waning, and new efforts are needed to promote more stewardship of the river that hosts a lot of traffic in the summer.

The ideas tossed around at a public forum Wednesday night ranged from funding a river ranger to help with enforcement on the waterway to charging a sort of impact fee on the sale or use of private tubes.

Some river advocates also are suggesting it’s time for the city to revisit and consider revising the 2004 management plan that regulates commercial recreation on the popular river.

“There’s a great deal at stake,” Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission member Chrissy Lynch said at the start of the work session the commission hosted to discuss summer recreation on the Yampa and solicit ideas to lessen the impact of private recreation.

Summer recreation on the Yampa continued to surge in 2014, but things like litter and public alcohol consumption again were issues.

Some stewardship efforts, like Leadership Steamboat’s decision to start an education campaign focusing on the river, already are underway.

City staff also is in discussions with colleges like Colorado Mountain College to bring on summer interns that could help to amplify the message of responsible recreation on the river.

But others, like the river ranger, would be dependent on funding.

The position did not make it through the city’s budget process this year, but Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet said he is planning to propose the additional personnel in the city’s 2016 budget.

Meanwhile, river users are coming up with their own ideas.

Longtime Friends of the Yampa board member and river outfitter Pete Van De Carr said he wants to see things like hard take outs, better parking enforcement and more river education efforts.

To fund, them he suggested a “last resort” option of imposing a $5 fee at the put ins for all river users in the months of July and August.

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters co-owner Jarrett Duty suggested creating a small day pass that would have to be purchased by private tubers for $2 to $5.

Commercial river outfitters like Van De Carr and Duty already pay the city a 5 percent fee to be able to send anglers and tubers in the Yampa where it runs near downtown Steamboat.

They also abide by a number of rules in the management plan that aim to limit the impact of the recreation.

Local angler Scott Ford suggested a change to one of those rules.

He proposed that commercial tubing outfitters be allowed to send people above the Fifth Street Bridge to make the floats longer and more appealing to consumers.

Ford said the move could boost the number of people choosing the commercial tube rentals instead of going out and buying their own tubes to float the river unregulated.

He said when the river management plan was adopted in 2004, it was assumed tubers who went above the Fifth Street Bridge primarily would be locals, but that has not turned out to be the case because visitors who drive into Steamboat see the longer stretch of river before downtown and want to float it.

“I don’t think anyone had any idea of how well this would take off,” Ford said. “What we’re trying to manage is an amusement park ride.”

In 2015, 13 commercial river outfitters sent 14,791 tubers, 529 anglers, 419 kayakers, 815 stand-up paddleboarders and 802 rafters and canoeists to the town stretch of the Yampa.

The $22,179 in revenue the city collected from those operations was the highest since the impact fee was initiated in 2004.

With only three commissioners present at Wednesday’s meeting, the Parks and Recreation Commission did not have a quorum and was unable to make any motion or recommendation.

The commission will discuss recreation on the Yampa again at a meeting in March when it considers renewing permits for commercial river operators.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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