(CO) River Access in Colorado Under Siege!

posted August 23, 2001
by Jason Robertson

American Whitewater is protecting your right to fish, float, and play on Colorado's rivers and streams.

Lake Fork, Gunnison: Landowner is trying to control use & issue permits
Cheesman Gorge, South Platte: Private club has built death trap to block boaters
Decker's Run, South Platte: Landowner trying to claim ownership of river
Taylor River: Gun-toting landowner charged with threatening boaters
Florida River: Canoe club ordered off river by sheriff for "trespassing"
Clear Creek: Town won right to allocate water for recreation at Golden Park

WHY SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED?

Several different navigability conflicts are moving through Colorado's courts. We won one. We're about to win a second. But if we lose the third or fourth, you could lose your ability to access and enjoy ALL of Colorado's rivers. Don't sit idly by while a few selfish individuals with deep pockets try to keep you off the State's rivers.

WHO'S ACCESS IS AT RISK?

Boaters, fishermen, hunters, waders, swimmers, picnickers and everyone that enjoys visiting Colorado's rivers may lose their ability to enjoy these rivers if we lose these legal battles. Fishermen have already lost the ability to wade on most rivers in the state. Now boaters may lose the ability to float too. And, if you're not allowed to float on the rivers, then you're not allowed to fish or otherwise use the river. This is true regardless of whether is flat water or class VI.

WHERE ARE THE CURRENT ACCESS CONFLICTS?

Lake Fork of the Gunnison - American Whitewater has joined Jack Nichols and Cannibal Outdoors in defense of the right of passage. We are asking the court to declare that private property owners cannot prevent (by any means) a boater's right of downstream passage on this or any other waterway in the state.

Cheesman Gorge of the South Platte - American Whitewater's actions have convinced the DA to back off on prosecuting boaters. As a result, the Sheriff's office is only taking reports and not issuing tickets. The bad news is that the Sportsman's Paradise is still blocking the river with a deadly grate and future confrontations remain likely. Boating this stretch remains an exercise in guerrilla stealth tactics or requires a healthy portage.

Deckers Run of the South Platte - American Whitewater has filed suit to declare a stretch of river public by virtue of adverse possession. We are asking the court to acknowledge the boater's right to float through unmolested.

Taylor River - A landowner was found guilty of two counts of misdemeanor menacing after threatening several boaters with a gun; his sentence includes: 10 days in jail, 1 year probation, 96 hours public service, nearly $450 in fines, anger management counseling, a ban on carrying firearms, and a requirement to send apologies to the victims.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Help yourself by making a donation to American Whitewater's Colorado River Access Fund. Send donations to: American Whitewater, Colorado Access Fund, P.O. Box 636, Margaretville, NY 12455, or call 866-boat-4-aw.

We need your help and donations to continue helping you!

More Information

Boaters' rights are under siege in Colorado. Three groups of boaters on three different rivers have been accused of trespassing during 2001, and dozens of boaters have been harrassed on other rivers throughout the state. The basic problem is that there is broad confusion within the courts and law enforcement circles about the state of the law. American Whitewater has established a dedicated fund to improve boater access rights in Colorado.

Colorado Access Fund Established

American Whitewater and the Colorado Whitewater Association (CWWA) are working with these boaters to have charges dismissed and to ensure continued future access to the State's rivers. American Whitewater has established has an access fund dedicated to protecting your rights to access Colorado's rivers. Please make a contribution and help defend your fellow boaters!

Lake Fork Gunnison (May, 2001)


Cannibal Outdoors, a river outfitter, was recently named in a lawsuit in Gunnison County District Court alleging civil trespass for conducting float trips on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River through the private property of Gateview Ranch. Land owners, private boaters and CROA representatives have participated in a Water Surface Recreation Forum sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources over the past two years seeking ways to accommodate conflicts between landowners and floaters. In spite of these efforts, Gateview Ranch has recently indicated that it "respectfully disagrees that there is any legal right of the public to float the Lake Fork where it flows through private property." Boaters held a Right to Float Rally on the Lake Fork Gunnison River in June 2001. American Whitewater has hired an attorney and is seeking to intervene on behalf of the boating community.

Cheesman Gorge, South Platte River (June 9, 2001)


The Park Co Deputy Sheriffs currently consider floating through Sportsman's Paradise trespassing. Boaters typically portage or float over a dam and under a metal grate hanging from the club's entrance bridge without ever touching club property. In this event, boaters report being yelled at, accused of breaking the law, and intimidated by Sportsman's Paradise members who shoveled dirt on the boaters from the bridge. Dave Eckhart, Chris Webster, Jeb, and American Whitewater board member Tim Kelly were cited for 2nd degree criminal trespassing. More information is available at mountainbuzz.com/wwwboard/index2.pl?read=20711. Charges were dismissed following a fire at the local courthouse.

Florida River (June 6, 2001)


A canoer was escorted off the river by a deputy sheriff. No charges were filed. American Whitewater is working with the boater to educate the sheriff's department about Colorado's navigability laws.

Taylor River


In a fourth incident, a landowner on the Taylor River was found guilty this Spring of two counts of misdemeanor menacing (no contest plea) after threatening several boaters with a gun. The landowner's sentence includes 10 days in jail, 1 year probation, 96 hours public service, and about $450 in fines. He also has to attend anger management counseling, carry no firearms, and send letters of apology to the victims.

Jason Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349


Associated News