Yampa River tubers, fishers agree on compromise plan

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS As of next summer, commercial tubing on the Yampa may be moving downriver for at least a year.
In a compromise between commercial tubing companies, the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers and the city, Director of Parks and Recreation Chris Wilson has proposed a "plan of action" that includes pushing the tubing companies down below Fifth Street for a one-year test.
A tentative council agenda includes revisiting a proposal to ban commercial tubing on the upper Yampa altogether; but, after council members and city staff met with commercial tubers and fly fishers, they amended the proposal to try to achieve a compromise.
"Ultimately, we're all giving up a little of our personal freedom for the good of the river," Wilson said.
The plan of action also includes a river management study and river improvements that the city will fund to the tune of $75,000 out of the 2001 budget. The study would assess the impacts on the river from its various uses, including everything from tubing to commercial development. Wilson said the study will help him understand how activities such as tubing affect the river. The YVFF is also contributing money to the study.
"This plan gives council a way to get some hard data for a year and then make our decision in the subsequent year," Wilson said.
The lower part of the Yampa in Steamboat Springs would constitute the area from Fifth Street to the Stockbridge Multi-Modal Center.
Peter Van De Carr, the owner of Backdoor Sports, which runs a tubing operation in the summer, is worried his business may suffer unless the city secures easements allowing tubers to float through private property below the Stockbridge Center. Although there is a "right-to-float" through private property that has been upheld in criminal court, provided that the floater does not touch the bottom of the riverbed, floating through private property can still constitute civil trespass.
Van De Carr said even if the city improves the river below Fifth Street, which has historically had a lower water level than the upper section, it would offer tubers only about a 30-minute ride through public property before they hit private land.
"If it's easier and more fun and the whole package is more attractive to go downstream, it shouldn't be a problem," he said. "But, if it's easier to buy a tube from a retailer and take a bus up to the upstream, they'll do that."
Private tubers would not be affected by council's decision on this proposal, but will be subject to stricter enforcement of existing regulations come next summer, Wilson said.
Those regulations include banning the use of glass containers and alcohol on the river, as well as forcing pet owners to use leashes.
Each of these regulations was already in place as of this summer but has not been enforced to a sufficient degree, Wilson said.
Enforcement will entail, for the most part, issuing warnings and tickets but may include sending parks officers out in kayaks to police the river, Wilson said.
The proposal also replaces regulations mandated by a "city manager's rule" with regulations mandated by an ordinance. Establishing an ordinance allows for public comment on the regulations and makes the regulations more clear, Wilson said.
Wilson, in cooperation with the YVFF, initially put the question of banning commercial tubing and other outfitter and guide services on the upper part of the river to City Council on Sept. 19. Council, after reviewing a position paper from the fly fishers and hearing public comment, balked at the idea in favor of conducting the River Management Plan to assess the health of the river.
The city has already applied for grants for a River Management Plan from Great Outdoors Colorado twice in the past but was denied both times.
The fly fishers, however, said they felt the study would not help the city come to any conclusion because of all of the variables involved, such as the effect of construction and development on the river.
Angered by the council's decision to kill the ordinance, the fly fishers threatened the city with what could have become a federal investigation of "Fishing-is-Fun" grant money.
Although the fly fishers have met with the state Division of Wildlife, they have not registered a formal complaint about the use of the funds, YVFF President Jim Curd said.
Curd said he is optimistic that the city's current proposal will yield more fruitful results than its previous attempts to mitigate this conflict.
"It's a compromise between the public community, the user groups and the city, and I think it's a good one," Curd said.

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