Tubing season approaches in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Tubing season approaches in Steamboat

Yampa River still flowing too fast for safe floating

Zach Fridell

— During the past week, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has consistently dropped in intensity and water level.

On Tuesday afternoon, the river was running at about 1,000 cubic feet per second, only half the flow measured a week earlier. By Sunday, forecasters say, the river could hit the ideal "safe" flow for tubing of 700 cfs.

National Weather Service forecaster Bryon Lawrence said there is not expected to be much precipitation in the river valley and that the river should continue dropping this week.

Peter Van De Carr, president of Backdoor Sports, said even at 700 cfs, tubing the Yampa River in Steamboat can be dangerous.

"We'll evaluate daily, but even 700 cfs is pretty darn ripping for a big, strong guy," he said.

The commercial rafting companies tend to stick to 700 as the first chance to put tubes on the river, though they do send rafts and kayaks on the river at higher flows — something that has been going well this year, Van De Carr said.

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"Definitely tubing is just a little … too intimate with the water," he said. "It's perceived as something that's so safe, and really that's what scares me the most is the perception of safety."

Despite the slightly higher flow on the river Saturday — Lawrence said it should be between 750 and 820 cfs that day — the BAF Rafting Regatta again plans to take to the river.

Matt Anderson, of BAF Wax, said he's playing the regatta — unsanctioned by the city — low-key this year because he doesn't want to cause any problems. At the same time, he said he expects it to be a fun day. Last year, 375 to 400 tubers and rafters floated down the Yampa during the event, he said. By Tuesday afternoon, 247 people had confirmed they were attending this year on the group's Facebook page. More than 1,000 people had been invited.

Anderson said volunteer kayakers would be at the main holes along the river to collect trash and keep an eye on the rafters' and tubers' safety. Anderson said he hasn't talked to police or the city about this year's event.

Recommendations in the Yampa River Management Plan, adopted by the Steamboat Springs City Council in 2004, discourage tubing above Fetcher Park and encourage tubers to float downstream from the bridge above Fifth Street. Walton Pond is above Fetcher Park.

"They say 700 (cfs) is the safe area, but the problem is if you go from Walton Creek down, there are a bunch of shallow spots that pop up when you're at 700 where you have to stand up," Van De Carr said.

Management Plan regulations prohibit glass, littering, Styrofoam coolers, dogs, nudity, alcohol and standing in the riverbed. The regulations also ask floating river users to respect others. Inflatable crafts are subject to Colorado boating under the influence laws.

The rafters plan to drop into the river at 12:30 p.m. at the Walton Pond dirt access. The regatta after-party, at 9 p.m. at Old Town Pub, will include DJs, live music and prizes.