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Steamboat Arts Council to reimagine Yampa River Queen

The Yampa River Queen sits in West Lincoln Park on Sunday afternoon. A set of wooden stairs have been removed from the play area, limiting access to the upper level of the structure, which has been deemed unsafe by the city of Steamboat Springs. Photo by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa River Queen will no longer sail the green grass sea of West Lincoln Park, but the Steamboat Springs Arts Council hopes to capture the River Queen’s spirit in a new project.

“We’re moving from ‘Save the Queen’ to ‘Reimagine the Queen,’” said Kim Keith, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

In May, the arts council took the helm in planning a new play area and shelter in the park to replace the River Queen, which the city tentatively plans to disassemble this August, Keith said.

The wooden stairs to the topmost level of the play structure were removed in June. The playground’s wooden deck and siding created a safety concern that threatened to raise the city’s insurance rating with the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, according to city staff. The playground is also inaccessible for people with disabilities.

The park’s prominent location as the western entrance to downtown and the significance of Steamboat’s namesake give the spot a spirit that the arts council hopes to capture in the new project, Keith said. The group is relying on community input to understand what that spirit is. The arts council is using principles of “creative placemaking,” to understand what the community is looking for in the new facility, Keith said.

“A River Queen would’ve never floated down this river, by any means. It’s much too large a boat,” Keith said. Still, steamboats like the ones the River Queen was modeled after have an obvious place in local lore. The playground is located about a third of a mile downriver from the original Steamboat Spring, a hot sulfur spring that made a “chugging” sound, which French trappers are said to have mistook for a steamboat. The area became known as Steamboat Springs.

The arts council plans to work within the specific parameters City Council gave during its May 1 meeting. The new project will include space for active play and create shade. It will be accessible for people with disabilities. It will be durable and low maintenance. It will be boat-themed. It will not cost more than $150k.

“There are lots of opportunities for people to get involved,” Keith said. “Even when we start building, I think there’s going to be opportunities for people to volunteer to help lay some of the materials. … I think what that can do is really create this community ownership of it. That community pride can be bolstered.”

The arts council plans to have two outreach events to get input on the future of the West Lincoln Park project. The first will be an interactive, information gathering area at the River Queen during Art in the Park. The arts council also plans to get input from residents of the Dream Island and Fairview neighborhoods at weekend ice pop stands.

A sign warning users not to climb on the upper level of the Yampa River Queen curls on the playground structure on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck.

The arts council earned a grant from Downtown Colorado Inc. to host a facilitated discussion about the West Lincoln Park project with community leaders from around the state who have successfully built creative placemaking projects. The discussion will likely take place in August, Keith said.

Keith hopes to engage people interested in designing and building the park concurrently. She said there are special challenges building in the park — it’s an area with a lot of geothermal activity and springs.

She hopes to bring a final plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission by December, in order to present it to City Council in January. In its May 1 meeting, the Council said it hoped to have a new structure built by December 2019.

Right now, the arts council is accepting “ideas, pictures of great parks, sketches and designs for what is possible,” Keith wrote in an email. To submit an idea, or to learn how to help with outreach and the re-imagination effort, email info@steamboatcreates.org.

Keith said she’s “thrilled” about the opportunity to provide creative leadership for the community. She said it’s a challenge, but one she is excited for.

“It’s going to help us get something that is memorable and exciting and new and bridge the gap between honoring our heritage,” she said.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.


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