Colorado Crew, the CU Boulder Rowing team of 55 student athletes, pays the highest dues in the country, according to team President Atharva Shinde. Courtesy of Colorado Crew

The fee for rowing teams to reserve the Boulder Reservoir for practice — the only option in the city with boat storage — has almost tripled in a year. The spike has become an existential pain point for the clubs, whose leaders say their programs are in jeopardy. 

In recent weeks, club leaders, representing around 150 athletes young and old, have looked to the Boulder City Council for relief, listing complaints about the way Boulder’s Parks & Recreation Department calculates fees and announcing them at a time when club members are already gearing up for the season. 

Club leaders have bombarded Boulder City Councilmembers with letters describing how the clubs believe fees are unfair and don’t match up with the amenities provided, such as no bathroom, no covered boat storage or security, and just a few staff members on site during reserved hours.  

In March, Parks & Rec raised fees from $100 an hour to $297, adding thousands of dollars to the yearly fees of clubs — and continuing a trend that began several years ago.

In its letter to council, the CU Boulder crew team Colorado Crew, wrote about its concern of going under. “Already, even with $2,700 in individual dues, Colorado Crew operated at a $10,000 deficit in 2022 to cover reservoir costs. This continued increase exacerbates an already unsustainable dues model for Colorado Crew that has worked for the past 30 years.” 

One college club, one youth club and one adult club use the reservoir for practice. The clubs each have around 50 members and all are nonprofit, with their expenses covered through membership fees.

CU’s rowing team has around 55 athletes who are burdened with some of the highest dues in the country, Atharva Shinde, the team president said in his letter. 

“We see no consideration or understanding for the finances of our program, or the manner in which this funding comes from students, and often from their student loans,” he wrote. 

After Boulder Reporting Lab reached out to Parks and Rec Director Alison Rhodes about the complaints, she said her team was working to update the rates to better align with the minimal offerings during the reserved hours when these clubs use the reservoir for private practice. On March 27, Mayor Aaron Brockett sent an update via email to Susan Abrams, the rowing clubs’ city liaison, saying the city has agreed to bring fees down to $203 an hour for adult clubs and $163 for youth. “While this is still more than before, it does also involve city subsidies for the programs,” he wrote in the email to Adams. 

The drop will save the CU Boulder rowing team about $10,000 over the season. But according to correspondence from the team to city council, it will still be paying more than $10,000 more this year compared to 2022. Other clubs expressed similar worries.

“CJC is grateful that the Boulder Reservoir came to an agreement that allows us to have a spring and summer season,” Amy Rosenblum, who is on the board of Colorado Junior Crew (CJC) and has a daughter on the team, told Boulder Reporting Lab. “However, it’s still double what we’ve paid in the past with little notice and no additional amenities. We hope to receive our contract in time to start our season in a week.”

Rhodes, who manages the department’s $35 million budget, said last week the fees have grown to align with actual costs. In meeting notes from the Parks & Rec advisory board from February, the original 2023 fee — $297 an hour — included a “25% subsidy” for adult teams. In other words, based on the city’s calculations, the actual cost of operation is 25% — or $74 — higher than that fee, and the city would be covering it.

“Previously, fees for the user groups were not developed based upon actual expenses and resulted in a heavy and unintentional subsidy for their use,” she said in an email. 

Mark Eller, president of Boulder Community Rowing, a master’s-level program for adults with another 40 members, said the club’s membership has dropped by more than half since fees started spiking a few years ago.

“We have surveyed our members and we know for a fact that the rising costs are a major reason why we are seeing diminished participation,” he told Boulder Reporting Lab.

Eller said the cost of membership has risen with reservoir fees, and now its rates don’t match up with clubs in other cities. “Ours are two to three times higher than comparable clubs because of the city’s high fees,” he said.

Boulder Community Rowing doing a practice drill at Boulder Reservoir. Rowing clubs like this one have seen usage fees skyrocket over the last few years and say they are at risk of having to shut down. Courtesy of Boulder Community Rowing

At a recent city council meeting, Rosenblum spoke up along with others to ask that councilmembers get involved in negotiations. “Let me be clear. There isn’t even a restroom that’s open for our coaches and athletes to use during the increased access hours,” she said.

Rosenblum said this was her second year coming to city council for help in changing the reservoir policies. As a volunteer, she said this isn’t a good use of her time. 

“Ultimately, our Parks and Rec offers a lot to citizens of Boulder, “ Rosenblum said. “And I would like to see that generosity extended to the rowing clubs.”

Jenna Sampson is a freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado. When not dabbling in boat building or rock climbing you can find her nursing an iced coffee in front of a good book.

Join the Conversation


  1. Let’s start the conversation with a listing of services and costs that comprise that fee for rowing. Then, let’s look for someplace to meet that meets all need.

  2. This Boulder Reservoir financial problem started years ago, when the former Parks Director, Yvette Bowden, and the former City Manager, Jane Brautigam, spent $14 million to ‘re do’ the Boulder Reservoir. I believe current councilmember Bob Yates was on the Parks Board then, I am guessing he was all for the $14 million fixer upper.

    Try to find Jeff Hailey, the Parks Planner, who left the Parks Dept. a while ago. He was in charge of actually doing the Res. project.

    Tear down the old ‘boathouse’ building, and build a new building, with the plan for a contract restaurant in the new building, to get a liquor license at Boulder Res.

    Liquor license was turned down, first time ever in Boulder a liquor license was turned down. Adjacent neighborhood was very opposed, and got organized.

    Boulder Res. is IN the City, adjacent neighbors are in Boulder County.

    Gussy up the entire place.

    Look at the Res. budget in great detail, with historical comparison.

    Compare the entry fees just to go to the beach, to other locations around the area, and how they have gone up over the years.

    I am not a rower, but served 5 years on the Parks Board in the 1980’s, and helped get the rowing clubs started at Boulder Res.

  3. The city did this several years ago when I was on the parks board. Some of the admin staff view groups as “special interests” instead of part of Boulder’s fitness-based social fabric. They see themselves as protecting the public interest against these so called special interests and they miss opportunities to leverage the social capital these groups have built. It’s too bad that mindset still permeates the department. They should be helping grow these groups instead of viewing them as special interests – basically as outsiders instead of a cohesive part of the community. On the other side of that coin, the groups aren’t helping the situation by presenting themselves as elite athletes that aren’t welcoming to the rest of the community.

  4. We are working with Standley Lake to create PEAK Rowing since last summer, 2022! The officers and staff are friendly towards us and supportive of our growth. If there are any rowers interested in joining our effort, please contact me, Natalie Ormond!

  5. Why does this story fail to include any comment from CU? Clearly, the university’s administration should be asked to explain why Boulder’s taxpayers, rather than CU, should subsidize the CU rowing team. Doesn’t CU’s athletics department raise enough revenue to subsidize the university’s sports teams without imposing additional costs on city government revenue sources?
    In addition, why does this story fail to discuss the economic issues involved in supporting an adult rowing club. Are adult rowers in this wealthy city incapable of paying their own way for recreational activities? Is the adult rowing club incapable of increasing its fund-raising activities among its higher-income supporters? What is the income range among adult rowers? Do adult rowers disproportionately represent lower-income households? If not, why is a city subsidy required?
    Further, this story fails to discuss the current financial issues confronted by the city’s recreation program. It is widely recognized that the city faces a personnel shortage that impedes its recreation operations. Wouldn’t that raise questions about whether the city needs to increase salaries for recreation personnel and, if so, wouldn’t that limit its ability to continue subsidizing activities such as rowing clubs?

  6. At even $100 the pricing is far far to high. I am not a rower — but believe access to these facilities by rowers is a part of a functioning government and community.

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