Taking on tubers’ trash: City exploring tube tax or user fees on Yampa River

Parks and Recreation Commission kicked off what's expected to be months long discussion on river recreation

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is in the early stages of exploring river user fees and a tax or fee on tubes.

This week, the commission kicked off what’s expected to be a multi-month discussion of possible solutions to address issues impacting the health of the Yampa River.

The conversation was instigated by an earlier March meeting, in which the city made revisions to the policy that regulates when the river reopens after a closure.

At the time, Steamboat Springs City Council directed Parks and Recreation staff and commissioners to consider a tax or fee on river tube sales and user fees for people using the river. The Parks and Recreation Commission serves as an advisory board to City Council.

“I think it’s simple, that our goal is the health of the river,” Commissioner Sarah Floyd said. “And not for next summer, but for 25 years from now or 50 years from now, that the river is still a beautiful amenity here in town.

“We’ve been working in the opposite direction as crowds and the volume of people in town and so forth has increased. I do respect what the (river outfitter) businesses do; I think that they do follow the rules that are in place. People can’t imagine not having the river, but that’s a reality if we don’t act.”

Land managers believe, with at least anecdotal evidence, that river recreation, along with all types of outdoor recreation, is increasing in the area.

“The industry is increasing across the board — whether it’s river recreation, hiking, biking, you name it — more people are heading towards the natural areas and rural areas like this to recreate outdoors, so river recreation, I would say it is probably trending upwards,” Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson said.

In the meeting, Robinson said the Yampa River is a relatively healthy river.

“There’s not been any direct correlation between recreation on the river to river health, except that trash is now considered an impact to river health, and we do have lots of trash,” Robinson said.

According to the city’s recently adopted Parks, Recreation, Open Space, Trails and River Master Plan, an estimated 3,000 or more tubers are on the river on a typical summer Saturday.

The city permits commercial tubing outfitters up to 915 trips on Saturdays and Sundays. Commercial operators are also allowed only to put in below the Fifth Street Bridge and to pay a monthly fee equivalent to 5% of their gross revenues derived from outfitting. Revenue from that fee is put towards river enhancement projects, monitoring and enforcement.

That policy structure doesn’t exist for tubers that purchase their own tubes. For private tubers, there are no permits or limits as to how many trips can be on the river per day or where they can put in.

On Wednesday, the commission set three goals as they consider implementing a user fee or other policy changes impacting river recreation in the city:

  1. To maintain and protect river health for future generations
  2. Develop a set of standards and educational outreach
  3. Determine how the city can work with retailers on tubing issues 

The commission also instructed Parks and Recreation staff to collect information from other communities about river recreation, including whether they collect user fees, taxes or fees on river equipment, permitting of commercial river operators, monitoring of river recreation, issues they face and any limits on river recreation. They’ll also work to make a plan to gather data about how many tubes are sold at Steamboat’s major retailers and how many people are hitting the river in tubes.

Robinson explained that river health is the overarching goal of considering changes to river recreation in city limits.

“The issue is going to continue to be discussed and kind of flushed out a little bit more,” he said.

“We also have these ancillary, little challenges,” Robinson added. “Challenges such as parking, noise, perhaps user conflicts, overcrowding and trash.”

In public comment, Friends of the Yampa President Kent Vertrees said he appreciated the commission’s goals as river health and trash are among their priorities. Vertrees presented a list of waste picked up at this summer’s annual Yampa River Cleanup that could be related to tubing, including 160 aluminum cans, 100 water bottles, 31 flip-flops, 20 sunglasses and 17 sandals.

“Friends of the Yampa talked about this issue internally, and we don’t have an opinion on this,” he said. “We just believe in access to the river. … River tubing is one of the first experiences people have in their lives on rivers and floating, and I don’t think that should go away. We as a board — we support the right to float, and it’s a conundrum of sorts.”

While the city is in the early stages of considering policies to address these issues, a tax on tube sales would require a ballot measure, and any proposed fee would have to fund specific programs related to the equipment the fee is charged on.

Two more discussions are currently scheduled for the Parks and Recreation Commission at its Oct. 23 and Nov. 13 meetings. Robinson said he hopes to have information collected from other communities available at those meetings.

“We hope after those two meetings, we’ll have a better direction in which we’re moving forward with, but it’s very preliminary at this point,” Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said.

Cosby added that all input is welcome as the conversation is getting started.

“We’d love their feedback as we develop this process,” she said.

To view the Park’s and Recreation Commission’s discussion on this topic, visit

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

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