A long summer of reviewing nearly all policies concerning the Yampa River will include a special subcommittee, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation decided earlier this month.
The parks board had already agreed to focus on the waterway through the year, but after seeing a potential outline of topics and when they would be addressed at its April 12 meeting, the commission opted to employ a subcommittee of two commissioners and other stakeholders to take on some of the heavy lifting.
“This topic is so large that I would envision that subcommittee still bringing back topics related to that schedule. Your conversations are probably going to be briefer,” said Steamboat Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby. “There’ll be more background and then a recommendation from the subcommittee, versus trying to generate those recommendations across the whole commission.”
The commission has reviewed river multiple policies in recent years, including code changes in 2021 and an update to the river management plans included in the larger parks plan in 2019. But the river ranked high among residents when surveyed last year and last summer saw river policies questioned by outfitters as the river opened and closed to recreation multiple times amid low flows and warm water temperatures.
Craig Robinson, the city’s parks, open space and trails manager, said the process would allow a “good public discussion” about the Yampa and could help better understand the specific concerns some residents had on the survey.
The hope is to “make sure the public is invited from all aspects and we have the scientists and we have our partners here like [Colorado Parks and Wildlife] to vet these items through in a public fashion,” Robinson said.
The schedule Robinson outlined would look at rafting policies at the commission’s May 10 meeting, get an update from the city’s hydrological consultant at its June 14 and July 12 meetings, before delving into multiple facets of river recreation on Aug. 9, Sept. 13 and Oct. 11. If needed recreation talks would continue on Nov. 8 as well. If the commission decides to make recommendations for ordinance changes to City Council, that would come in December.
Pete Van De Carr, who owns Backdoor Sports and holds the largest allotment for tubing on the Yampa of any outfitter, has been advocating for the commission to form a subcommittee to explore river policies. He’s mentioned it in previous meetings and pushed for the idea twice on April 12.
“You could spend eight hours to discuss any one of those days,” Van De Carr said. “I think that agenda, I mean it’s off the charts. If you want to take it on, I’m very appreciative of that but I think that an assigned committee should be tackling this and come up with a plan we can all be proud of.”
The city works with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials when deciding whether to shutter the waterway, but ultimately each has jurisdiction depending on the form of recreation. CPW has jurisdiction over fishing while the city makes the call for tubing.
Bill Atkinson, CPW’s local aquatic biologist, said while the agency has a list of policies about what warrants a river closure, those policies also include the word “may,” giving officials flexibility when making decisions. Atkinson added that they have had good success with voluntary closures as well.
“Our criteria is strictly for fishing,” Atkinson said. “I think personally it’s very difficult. There’s so many variables that come into play. … We’ll have feedback on this, but a lot of this stuff is going to be city decisions because of the mere fact that this is recreation that we don’t manage in the city.”
Parks commissioners Sam Rush and Kelly Bastone volunteered to serve on the subcommittee. Cosby said the commission would stick with the schedule Robinson outlined, with the subcommittee reporting back to the parks commission at those meetings.