Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Golden eyes tubing reservation system on Clear Creek to manage swelling summer crowds

As another season of tubing down Clear Creek in Golden beckons, the city is considering a novel approach to controlling the crowds that descend on the popular waterway: a reservation system.

The discussions are still in the early stages and the system, if it moves forward, wouldn’t be implemented until 2025. But the mere idea of requiring people to sign up for a float down Clear Creek is a testament to the increasing number of people Golden has had to manage on the water in recent years, especially in the wake of a pandemic-fueled turn to the outdoors.

“People feel there are too many people in the summer,” Deputy City Manager Carly Lorentz said. “I think in 2020 people realized how great the creek is and how easy it is to access — and so they keep coming. We’re just trying to figure how to be responsive to that.”

Rocky Mountain National Park made headlines when it put in place an online reservation system to gain entry to the park during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but no such restrictive approach has been used on Colorado rivers and creeks before.

“It really comes from the community’s feedback and the fact that we wish we could control the numbers more,” Lorentz said.

During the busiest weekend in 2022, Clear Creek saw 2,000 people frolicking in its eddies and swells, according to city data. Last year, that number dropped to 1,300 river users on the most active weekend but the impact of creek-bound crowds is still apparent and irritating to locals, with visitors illegally parking in neighborhoods and leaving garbage in their wake.

“In the summer in the last two or three years, it’s gotten ridiculous,” said D. Rice, a Golden resident for more than three decades who avoids downtown during peak periods of creek activity. “You see people with tubes you could buy at the dollar store, and that’s just a disaster waiting to happen.”

There have been two fatalities on the creek in the past four years, according to the city, and both occurred upriver in Jefferson County in 2022, outside of Golden city limits. One incident involved four people who were tossed from a tube in turbulent water in early July. A man in the group who was pulled unconscious from the creek later died.

Golden uses a colored flag system to indicate the volume of water flow on any given day, and if things get rough enough, the creek is closed to all users. That happened five years ago, when a melting snowpack pushed Clear Creek’s flow to 1,200 cubic feet per second. Safety concerns increase for inexperienced swimmers when water in the creek exceeds 800 CFS, officials say.

Three years ago, Golden addressed the increasing allure of Clear Creek by placing a cap on the number of tubes that could be rented daily from the two outfitters licensed by the city. The city kept that limit in place the following two years and will do so again in 2024.

“We’re holding the outfitters to the 2021 numbers,” Lorentz said.

City officials would not immediately disclose what the daily limit is for tube rentals, nor would the two outfitters in town — Adventure West and Golden River Sports. But more than a few Golden residents have pointed to the tube rental companies as central to the Clear Creek crowd problem.

“I see a lot of the crowds tied to the tube rentals,” said Jack Ferrell, an avid water recreationist who regularly tubes and kayaks Clear Creek with his daughters. “This is not a lazy river but these people who rent a tube have no idea what they’re getting into.”

The 20-year Golden resident has had to pluck from his kayak more than one jettisoned tuber.

“The barrier of entry is so low with the tube rentals,” Ferrell said.

But Patty Pinkham, who owns Golden River Sports with her husband and has run the company’s tube rental program for the past nine years, said the real problem lies with those who arrive at Clear Creek with their own tubes. Usually, they carry no safety equipment and their tubes are a better fit for a swimming pool than a raging river.

“We watched a lot of tubers who didn’t have helmets, who didn’t have life jackets,” Pinkham said. “There’s no regulation on the do-it-yourself tuber.”

Golden River Sports doesn’t rent tubes when creek flow exceeds 700 CFS, she said, and a helmet and life jacket are provided as part of every rental package. Adventure West does the same, said co-owner Elizabeth Battilla.

“The best way to manage crowds on the creek is to make life jackets mandatory,” she said. “This would improve safety and dissuade less responsible individuals from coming to the creek. In short, your life jacket is your ticket to tube.”

Battilla said there once were three tube rental outfitters in Golden, so the fact that only two are still standing means “reduced numbers of tubes are being rented daily.”

“Also, because overall creek use has increased each year, obviously the increased number is all the people who bring their own tubes since we are so limited and are turning many people away,” she said.

Adventure West also shuttles 70% of its customers to the launch point about a mile up Clear Creek, Battilla said, keeping them from “clogging up the pathways” that line the creek.

As far as this summer goes, Golden is putting in place several new measures to improve management at the creek. It plans to hire a parking management company to cut down on illegal parking in residential neighborhoods.

It will continue attaching radio frequency identification technology, or RFID tags, to tubes so that the city can better gauge usage on the creek. This year, the RFID tags will go inside the tubes rather than adhered to the outside, where they can be jostled loose and fall off.

The city will spend $842,500 managing the creek in 2024, using around 19 seasonal staff during the six- to eight-week period when people take to the water, starting in late June.

Whether the city has to resort to a reservation system to manage crowds next year is still not known, deputy city manager Lorentz said, but that decision will likely be informed by how things go this summer.

“I think there will still be crowds, but we’re more prepared for creek season,” she said.

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our daily Your Morning Dozen email newsletter.

Popular Articles