New Surf Spot on Yampa: A-hole Gets Major Facelift

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Put the Yampa on your river running radar this season. In the middle of a deep December, the city of Steamboat Springs and Friends of the Yampa collaborated on the reconstruction of the Ambulance Hole on the Yampa, just downstream from the footbridge that leads to Howelsen Hill, finishing just before 98 inches of snow fell on the mountain. And all that snow will melt off into the river’s newest play feature this spring.

The purpose of the work was twofold — rebuilding the kayak play hole so it is friendlier to novice and intermediate paddlers, while creating a side channel, or bypass, to restore the ability of trout to migrate in the river, especially during spawning seasons. As a bonus, it will make that part of the river easier for mid-summer tubers to navigate.

City Parks, Open Space and Trail Manager Craig Robinson said the reconfigured Ambulance Hole is the first of two projects planned for the stretch of the Yampa between Eight and 11th streets.

“We’ll try to have the Toots Hole (named for nearby Little Toots Park) completed by this time next year at the latest,” Robinson said.

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Excavators at work on the newly built A-hole in downtown Steamboat.

Like the refurbished Ambulance Hole, the Toots Hole, just above the confluence with Soda Creek, will involve a drop structure that will cover roughly half of the river channel, with a bypass on the other side. Depending upon flow levels, it’s hoped the drop structure will create a hole resulting in a modest standing wave for kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to surf.

In addition, the stream improvements will improve access while creating low-flow meanders and pools in the river.

Thirty-year Friends of the Yampa board member Peter Van De Carr said the old Ambulance Hole wasn’t desirable for kayakers and was dangerous for people tubing the Yampa.

For kayakers, “It wasn’t like Charlie’s Hole near the Bud Werner Memorial Library, with a big thumping wave and a fluffy pillow on top,” Van De Carr said. “It was a foot-and-a-half ledge, and inexperienced tubers would lean back and cut their heads on the rocks.”

Gary Lacy of Recreation Engineers and Planning, who designed Charlie’s Hole, did the design work on the two new features in the Yampa. Nordic Excavating of Steamboat Springs performed the difficult work of placing boulders in the stream to create the new structures.

Robinson said the scope of the work is more than recreation. It includes bank stabilization and riparian habitat restoration. The work got a boost from Friends of the Yampa’s ability to land a grant from the Colorado Water Conservancy Board’s water supply reserve account, passed through the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable.

Friends of the Yampa worked diligently throughout a period of four years to clear all of the hurdles necessary to reshape the river’s channel.

The rigorous permit process, which is required to build new structures in the river, involved review by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the city of Steamboat Springs Planning Department.

–Tom Ross, Steamboat Pilot & Today

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