Rules for tubing on the Yampa change after Steamboat City Council vote

Willows, cottonwoods and a bright assortment of shrubs and other vegetation have donned their fall-colored leaves along the Yampa River. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As part of a larger discussion about taking better care of the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs City Council voted Tuesday to give commercial river tubing and angling outfitters the ability to flex their daily allotments to be used as needed each month.

Craig Robinson, Steamboat trails and open spaces manager, said the decision is meant to work alongside the city’s previous decision to place a tax on river tube sales sold in town.

“This is really a policy discussion and a permitting process, so if it’s not working out, we can revisit it, and we can change the permit conditions at any point in time,” Robinson said.

The decision is also a smaller part of the larger 2004 Yampa River Management Plan, which was created to help ensure the “protection of the biological integrity of the river and manage recreational uses at sustainable levels,” as the plan states.

As part of the recreation use occurring on the river, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Trails and Rivers Advisory Committee and Steamboat city staff conducted research on how to maintain the health of the river.

Researchers from the three groups split areas of concern into subcategories, including focuses on recreational use, land use, noise, trespassing, residential, business areas, concentrated areas of play, parking, river form and function, water quality and wildlife impacts.

While council has focused on recreational use, Robinson said limiting that is only one part of ensuring the health of the river, as factors such as low snow and warming temperatures also play a role.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife does frequent testing and noted there are so many factors that impact aquatic health,” Robinson said. “They’re talking about impacts from drought, from warmer water temperatures, from all the variables were seeing each year.”

During the planning process, estimates for all annual river recreation use ranged from 20,000 to 40,000, consisting mostly of tubers.

To address some of the community’s concerns, the city permitted five commercial tube outfitters with weekday, Friday and weekend daily limits established for each company. The permitting allows for about 49,000 tubes over a three-month peak use period. Commercial access to the river was approved below Fifth Street Bridge between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

However, Steamboat Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said the commission received feedback from members of the public who said they would have preferred more flexibility from outfitters, which is part of what inspired the change.

Some council members said it was important for council and city staff to remember many community residents choose not to float with a commercial operator because they cannot afford to do so.

“I truly believe a lot of people tube privately because it’s cheap, and they either don’t have the money to go through a commercial operator, or they don’t want to spend the money to go through a commercial operator,” council member Lisel Petis said. “I think people should have access to a lot of our nature for free, and I don’t think we should be charging for everything.”

Because of this, Petis proposed a trial period of this ordinance set to end in the fall. While council approved an ordinance without a time limit, they agreed to revisit the issue in the fall.

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