Little Yampa Canyon campsites receive upgrade ahead of Colorado Public Lands Celebration, May 19
CRAIG — Veterans from The Mission Continues were among a 15-person team floating the Yampa River South of Craig the first weekend of May.
Their mission was to help improve campsites along a 32-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Little Yampa Canyon Special Recreation Management Area.
“When I came home, my life was in a whirlwind. I worked as a river guide on the Colorado River connecting families with the river, and that experience was really healing for me,” said Marine Corps Veteran Calder Young.
He now spends much of his free time working with nonprofits and is a member of both The Mission Continues and Friends of the Yampa, where he learned of river projects that were ready, except for the labor. So he helped gather a platoon from the city.
“The river has been really good to me. I wanted to help them experience the river while doing a service project,” Young said.
The put-in: A 14-agency collaboration continues a legacy on the river
The Mission Continues platoon is one of several groups renewing a collaboration that dates back 20 years.
In 1997, the Yampa River System Legacy Partnership was formed by 14 agencies to encourage governmental and nonprofit partners to work for the protection and enhancement of the health of the Yampa River, its tributaries, agricultural lands, ecosystems and wildlife.
Jacob Brey, Colorado Parks and Wildlife park manager of Yampa River and Elkhead Reservoir State Parks and YRSLP partner, helped organize the multi-trip, multi-week effort.
“Since 1999, we’ve managed the recreational aspects of the river for BLM,” Brey said.
In March, the Friends of the Yampa was included in the agreement.
“This stretch of the river is one of the only sections that doesn’t require a permit. It’s a super friendly section that flows through a large stretch of public land,” said Vice President of FOY, the younger Ben Beall.
His father — the elder Ben Beall — yelled at their raft, “Make sure you let people know how important river recreation is to the local economy.”
Because permits limit the number of rafters on many sections of the Yampa, improving infrastructure along open portions could help grow river recreation near Craig.
April through mid-June are great times to float the Yampa River, and sometimes, depending on flow, it is navigable by small floatable craft, such as paddleboards and duckies — small inflatable boats, the younger Beall said.
For this float, the big boats were out, including “The Barney Boat,” said a grinning Roy McKinstry, as he shared the family name for the large purple boat he packed with gear for the trip.
Nearby, his wife, Kathy McKinstry — assistant field manager for the Little Snake Office of BLM and an organizing partner — recalled driving from Nevada to float the Yampa River for three nights with Roy and their daughter, who was 6 years old at the time.
“It really is a family friendly part of the river,” she said.
After two decades of partnerships and a year of planning the current project, partners put paddles to the river.
“During, some of my struggles with PTSD, time on the river was a healing process to me. … It means a lot to me to be able to be part of a service project that will increase recreational use on the river and bring more people to the water,” Young said.
The float: Volunteer work crews
The goal of phase one is to improve the flat-water family float by improving recreational infrastructure.
“The major project is to revitalize five existing, dedicated campsites on BLM managed lands,” Brey said.
Picnic tables and fire rings have been added to each location. New signs are being placed at boat ramps, campgrounds and public/private boundaries.
“This is part of our renewed mission to connect our public lands resource with our communities,” McKinstry said.
To further assist rafters, the campsites — after consultation with Moffat County river users — were named.
The Mission Continues team placed large posts, which Brey had engraved with the names, at each campsite.
“The posts can be used to tie-up your boat,” Brey said.
A brochure with maps, area facts and navigational waypoints through the Little Yampa Canyon will be created in the future, a secondary part of the project.
“The trip went flawlessly. We did a lot of pre-planning, and this is what this group does well,” Young said. “It went so well, we started looking at other projects and what else we could do.”
Next, volunteers from the FOY and the Northwest Colorado Chapter of the Parrotheads will make a second trip, set for the weekend.
“We’ll be headed back out with a new group this weekend,” Brey said.
The takeout: Public invited to celebrate at a ribbon cutting ceremony
Two weeks of hard work will culminate with a celebration. Representatives from all the entities involved will be present on Colorado Public Lands Day, May 19, for a ribbon-cutting event.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be on the river, but I’ll be up for the ribbon cutting,” Young said.
The event begins at 10:30 a.m. at the South Beach access of Yampa River State Park, approximately 3 miles south of Craig on U.S. Highway 13.
Light refreshments will be served. Depending on river flow, motorized craft will be on-hand, allowing a limited number of people tours of the campsites.
Members of the public are encouraged to mark the celebration by launching their own overnight float trips through the Little Yampa Canyon.
“We hope that people will come down and learn more about what’s here in our backyard,” the younger Beall said. “We also hope that people will use the river ethically and haul their trash and waste out with them.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.