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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council supports ban on local sale of low-quality river tubes that often become trash

Council members showed support for requiring all tubes sold in town to have a thickness of at least 28 gauge after the parks department conducted a backyard tube durability test.


River tubes frequently purchased at places like Walmart and Walgreens in Steamboat Springs may not return to shelves this summer as Steamboat City Council showed support for a ban on lower-quality tubes on Tuesday.


The recommended “minimum thickness requirement” comes from the Parks and Recreation Commission and Parks Department staff. The recommended 28-gauge minimum is based on a series of tests that saw city staff drag someone on various quality tubes over a 70-foot patch of scoria in the snow-covered parks department parking lot. (Scoria is the black volcanic rock used to help provide traction on winter roads.)


“The 14-gauge didn’t last one run. Our 18-gauge didn’t last two runs,” said Rob Burdine, the city’s deputy parks and recreation director. “Those are the two tubes that we see mostly sold here.”


They tested 20, 22, 28 and 30-gauge tubes as well. The 28-guage lasted 15 runs over the scoria, while the 20 and 22-gauge lasted five and two trips, respectively. The 30-gauge tube, which is the thickness generally used by commercial tubing outfitters, saw no visible wear after 20 trips over the scoria. The old-school rubber innertube also showed good durability, not showing wear after 15 runs.


Thicker tubes are available online and some more specialized river recreation retailers locally have already been only selling thicker, higher-quality tubes.


While the thickness requirement would impact what tubes can be sold, it wouldn’t stop people from using whatever tube they want when going for a float. It also wouldn’t stop someone from buying a thinner tube online and using that.


Council member Michael Buccino said he wasn’t interested in setting the requirement in a way that made it next to impossible for a local to buy a tube and use the river, a point several members of council agreed on.


“We have to make sure that this is not a very subtle way of cutting down the use of the river,” said council member Joella West. “That is not what it appears to be on its face.”


Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said they found three tubes online that were 28-gauge somewhat easily. Predictably, they were more expensive than thinner versions.


Council member Brian Swintek said he was concerned requiring more expensive tubes could make it harder to enjoy the river, which he considered one of the few low-cost activities available to locals. Burdine said they believe requiring people to pay more for a better tube will motivate people to ensure it is not discarded on the Banks of the Yampa.


There was general support on council for putting the thickness requirement in place ahead of this summer. That will require an ordinance, which will return to council in the coming weeks as part of a larger river regulation package.


An additional piece of that will be the repeal of the city’s mesh bag requirement. It was put in place so recreators wouldn’t leave disposable items with them on the river. Since there is now a ban on disposable items on the river, the mesh bag requirement is no longer serving the intended purpose.


Top Photo Caption: Parks and Recreation staff tested various tubes by dragging them over a patch of scoria and seeing how long it took for them to pop. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)


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