Soren Jespersen: Invest in the Yampa
June 17, 2013
In a recent article on the growing sport of stand-up paddleboarding, Scott Ford compares Steamboat's section of the Yampa River to an "amusement ride." But if the river is Steamboat's amusement ride, then it is one that is running with little adult supervision, rotating on its endless loops while the paint crumbles and the supporting beams rot away. The Yampa River is the centerpiece of our town in the summertime. From Charlie's Hole to the Core Trail to the riverside decks on Yampa Street to the outstanding floating and fishing opportunities found throughout its length, the Yampa River is the source and backdrop for most of our summertime fun. Without the Yampa River, the old Steamboat adage wouldn't be, "I came for the winters and stayed for the summers"; it'd be, "I came for the winters … and left in April." Although much recent attention has been paid to the future hopes of making this town a regional bicycling destination, the Yampa River is a feature that currently draws folks from across the country — to fish the world-class trout fishery, to tube with the family through town, or on their way to raft the famous canyons in Dinosaur National Monument. While the City of Steamboat Springs must be lauded for its considerable investments over the years in acquiring riverside open space, obtaining a recreational in-channel diversion water right at Charlie's Hole, and contributing to water purchases that protected life-sustaining flows during last year's drought, it still seems that more can, and should, be done. What is needed is not only a sustained investment in making the Yampa River throughout its length a national attraction, but investing in the dirty work of managing and enforcing the plans and policies we have in place to ensure that the Yampa River's economic, social and ecological benefits are maximized. Whether it's the still-unsolved catch-22 of summertime tubing, or the mothballed Yampa River Structures Plan, or the haphazard project at Fournier open space, the river continues to get short shrift when compared to other natural features in our town. One notable example is that not a single boat ramp or official boat access point exists along the river stretch in Steamboat Springs. If a fisherman with a drift boat or a family with a raft wants to float the stretch of river through town, they are forced to carry or drag their boats to and from access points at Walton Creek, the Transit Center or Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area. This lack of access not only discourages river use, but encourages trespass onto private property and into sensitive riparian areas. Besides a lack of public access in Steamboat itself, the amazingly beautiful stretches of river between Steamboat and Hayden are almost completely unused by anyone other than the well-connected outfitter because of a lack of access downstream. Towns along the Roaring Fork, Colorado, Eagle and Arkansas rivers have all managed to find ways to provide quality access to their prominent rivers while balancing private property concerns, but we here in the Yampa Valley continue to provide only rare and semi-legal access to our river. We could alleviate this deficiency with creative planning and partnerships with private landowners, other municipalities and the county, but we just seem to sweep it under the rug and hope that nobody notices what they're missing. I have heard that the city has begun working with stakeholders to improve access, particularly at Fournier open space and Bear River Park. These efforts should be prioritized so that we can get ahead of the inevitable problems that this increased use could cause in the years ahead.