STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s a well known summertime tradition, but starting Wednesday — the first day of summer — the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs is closed to tubing and rafting.

At this time last year the river was flowing at about 4,000 cubic feet per second. Right now it’s all the way down to about 85. With the river that low, business is being shelved to protect the wildlife habitat.

“I’ve been here since 1990, so 22 years; I’ve never seen the river this low this early — 2002 came close,” Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van Der Carr said.

So on June 20, far early than any other year, Backdoor Sports is shutting down its rafting and tubing side. Mike Rakowski is one of the longest serving employees as a water guide, and now with the rest of the summer off, he doesn’t know what’s ahead.

“You got a job for an old ski bum? I don’t know, probably nothing,” Rakowski said.

A master plan that was put in place about a decade ago says commercial recreation on the water must cease when flows get down to 85 cubic feet per second. This year that number has come a few months earlier than anticipated for business owners.

“It’s not going to be easy, there’s no sugarcoating it, and I don’t want to make it lighter than it is, but I can’t dwell on it and I can’t let it make me grumpy,” Rakowski said.

Rakowski says summer unemployment is something the staff has talked about.

“We were predicting it, but hoping against it. We kept hoping there’d be a little rain,” he said.

Van Der Carr says he’s upset after the state lottery released $2.4 million yesterday to go toward improvements along the Yampa River.

“The frustration is we won’t have a river this year, but we do have $2.4 million to access it,” he said.

Van Der Carr says he’s tried to go around town to raise funds so a makeshift group could buy a significant amount of water from a nearby reservoir and keep the streams flowing.

The town has gotten involved, but so far they’re well short of the necessary $140,000.


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