The twisted frame of a canoe is jammed on the rocks of the Yampa River just past 12th Street. The canoe's owner, John Fielding, and his son were able to swim to shore Thursday evening after the canoe tipped. Fielding said he will wait for the water to recede to safe levels before trying to recover the craft.

Photo by John F. Russell

The twisted frame of a canoe is jammed on the rocks of the Yampa River just past 12th Street. The canoe's owner, John Fielding, and his son were able to swim to shore Thursday evening after the canoe tipped. Fielding said he will wait for the water to recede to safe levels before trying to recover the craft.

Caution urged on Yampa River as commercial tubing season starts in Steamboat Springs

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Visitor Robert Lott, front, along with friends Kevin and Chris Boddy float down the Yampa River on Friday afternoon. The Yampa fell below 700 cfs Wednesday, allowing commercial tubing. However, officials warn tubers that life vests and proper shoes should be used.

— Steamboat Springs resident John Fielding and his son will tell you that the 700 cubic feet per second mark that signifies the start of commercial tubing season on the Yampa River doesn’t mean a mild, lazy river float.

On Thursday, the Fieldings’ canoe sprang a leak and overturned.

“We got sideways and were tossed out of the canoe. Even though we were wearing life jackets, we both found it very hard to swim. I thought there was a real possibility of drowning,” Fielding said.

The Fieldings’ abandoned canoe is wrapped around a boulder across from 12th Street. It serves as a warning to residents and visitors that floating the Yampa should be treated with a bit more caution than a trip to Water World.

“That powerful current can be very dangerous,” Fielding said.

The Yampa River through Steamboat Springs hit the top end of commercial tubing levels Wednesday when it dropped below 700 cfs where it’s measured below the Fifth Street Bridge.

“The community embraces the river. It’s the focal point of our community, so it’s natural to want to be on it,” said Peter Van De Carr, owner of tubing outfitter Backdoor Sports and member of the river protection group Friends of the Yampa.

“It’s an economical, enjoyable, refreshing and fun activity that almost anyone can do,” said John Kole, owner of One Stop Ski Shop, a commercial tubing outfitter.

It’s the “almost” that those concerned with river safety think needs to be stressed.

“We make sure people are physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it. Ninety-nine percent of people are very capable of this, but it’s that 1 percent we’re trying to warn off,” said Van De Carr.

Van De Carr advised all river users to wear footwear and life jackets.

Steamboat Springs Fire Safety Chief Mel Stewart echoed that sentiment.

“Certainly just be cautious, wear your life jacket and don’t drink while you’re on the river.”

Aside from safety precautions, commercial tubing businesses also put emphasis on making sure the Yampa remains part of the Yampa Valley culture for many years to come.

“Don’t litter. Don’t bring Styrofoam on the water,” Kole stressed. “Be aware of in and out points so you don’t disturb the banks.”

“Understand the boundaries,” Van De Carr said. “People should observe the Yampa River Management Plan that says you should only put in at Fetcher Pond and below.”

Those interested in helping clean up the river can join Friends of the Yampa during multiple cleanup events scheduled throughout the summer to help make sure tubing remains one of Steamboat’s seasonal hallmarks.

“Our river is beautiful, clean and the centerpiece of town,” Van De Carr said. “It’s something that a whole family can do and enjoy.”

Jake Miller, a 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He recently completed his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

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