Yampa River access concerns rising as private ramp closed
Editor’s note: Since publishing this story, Bob Junker, general manager of the KOA Holiday campground in Steamboat, has reached out. He said that while the boat ramp has been closed, the area will be repaved, and he hopes to reopen the ramp by mid-May. His plan is to make the boat ramp available once the property receives an occupancy certificate from the city. However, he added that because the area where vehicles and trailers used to park has been developed, those using the ramp will have to find parking elsewhere.
As the waters of the Yampa River swell with spring runoff, those who enjoy floating the river are getting back in the water, but finding it more difficult this year after a popular access point closed.
Last week, a group of concerned river advocates joined together hoping to start a conversation about the need for a new access ramp, and to make recreational rafters and fisherman aware that the public access that was previously offered at the Steamboat Springs KOA Holiday campground is no longer an option.
“The issue now is that we’ve really taken out such a huge chunk of river and that everybody’s condensed into essentially floating from (the Hayden Pump Station) down,” said Johnny Spillane, co-owner of Steamboat Flyfisher. “That’s just too much for the river.”
Spillane was joined by his Steamboat Flyfisher partner Rob Burden, John St. John, who owns Hog Island Boat Works and is a board member with Friends of the Yampa, and Jeff Ruff, who has been actively caring for the Yampa River for years as part of Yampa Valley Flyfishers and the Yampa Valley Stream Improvement Charitable Trust.
“There is no tension with KOA. It’s just that they were being very generous before,” Spillane said. “I want to make that pretty clear. We are all very thankful for what they have done and understand when they expanded their operations a boat ramp didn’t fit into that plan.”
Spillane, however, said the loss of the private ramp is concerning. He, and the others, were made aware that the ramp would likely close last fall, so they were not surprised it was closed when they returned to the river a few weeks ago.
The season, Spillane said, normally starts this time of year and runs through late June to mid-July depending on the runoff. In a good year, he said you can float the Yampa River until August.
The access point at the KOA campground was used as a put-in and take-out location for those with drift boats and rafts that are too heavy to be carried and are put into the water using trailers.
The access also allowed those boats that need a trailer to float from the River Creek Park access to the KOA, a distance of about eight miles, where they could be taken out by trailers. It also allowed for a much longer trip from the KOA to the Pump Station access, a distance of roughly 23 miles, which normally takes a full day on the river. The trip from the Pump Station access, near the Hayden Station, to Yampa River State Park is about 12.5 miles.
“It’s too much traffic, on too little water,” said Spillane.
St. John fears the loss of the access combined with the recent growth in popularity of floating the river could threaten the health of the river. He would like to see another access point that would spread the use out in different areas.
“A lot more folks are doing it now with rafts on trailers,” St. John said. “They take on multi-day trips, or they travel around the state. Folks are coming in from the Front Range to float the Yampa. I think there’s a lot more than there was 10 years ago.”
Many of those users are families that would be drawn to floating the stretch of river that runs from River Creek Park through Steamboat to the next logical takeout at the KOA.
“You take that one access, which is both a put in and take out for floating town, and it is going to surprise a lot of these people who are away on spring break who have young kids that have just purchased rafts and trailers,” Ruff said.
His fear is that they will look for new alternatives to take out including the small turn around west of town, which is officially open space and is not designed for trailer access with little room for parking, vehicles or trailers.
Angela Cosby, Steamboat Spring Parks & Recreation director, said there are options to access the river including the Stockbridge Transit Center, but she stressed that trailers are not allowed to cross the Yampa River Core Trail.
You’re not allowed to cross the core trail,“ Cosby said. ”We will be keeping it that way because that just causes damage.“
The group has had conversations about a proposed access point that is in the Bear River Park Master Plan that would allow trailer access once built, but that may be years away.
“It’s dependent upon city funding, and like most municipalities, we struggle annually with the budget and prioritizing,” Cosby said. “So, as soon as funding is available, we’ll get to work on that. I have heard that they have been fundraising for a portion of the project, but in order to access the boat ramps, streets do need to be constructed as well as an additional parking lot, which is far more costly.
“When we do look to construct it one day it will be done in phases, and this would be the first phase of construction — the streets, parking lot and the takeout.”
With or without a new access point, many of those involved expect the popularity of floating the Yampa River to continue to grow, along with the number of people on the river.
“The biggest thing is being able to access it as a family,” Burden said. “Three of us could carry raft across the bike path and get it no problem, but if Johnny (Spillane) and his wife and three kids want to go to take his boat out — that’s not an option.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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