AW Intervenes in Colorado Case

Posted: 12/03/2001
By: Jason Robertson
Contacts: November 30, 2001
Lisa Jones
Johnson Communications
720-890-8400 x-208
Kevin Schneider
CROA Chairman
Jason Robertson
AW Access Director


American Whitewater and Colorado White Water Association Intervene in Case
Colorado River Outfitters Association and America Outdoors File Amicus Brief

Gunnison, Colo. - The Cannibal Outdoor Network Inc. dba 'Cannibal Outdoors', a Colorado River Outfitters Association member, is being sued for civil trespass for conducting float trips on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River through the private property of Gateview Ranch Inc. and Timber Bridge Ranch Inc. in a lawsuit filed in Gunnison County District Court. The case seeks an injunction to forbid floating the Lake Fork and the precedent could affect every river in the state.

The defendant, Cannibal Outdoors, has recently gained additional support from American Whitewater and the Colorado White Water Association, as both organizations have filed and been accepted as intervenors or co-defendants in the case. In addition, America Outdoors (AO) and the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA), have jointly filed a motion to be granted amicus status or "friends of the Court." Subject to a ruling, AO and CROA will be filing a "friends of the court" brief in support of the defendant and citizens right to use surface waters of the state for recreational purposes.

Over the past two years, CROA representatives, private boaters and private land owners, including the plaintiff and defendants, have participated in a River Surface Recreation Forum sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources seeking ways to accommodate conflicts between landowners and floaters. Signage programs distinguishing public and private lands along river corridors are in place as a result of the River Surface Recreation Forum. Outfitters and private boaters on the Lake Fork and rivers throughout the state have made every effort to avoid damage to irrigation structures, cattle fences, and other ranch/private facilities.

Another attempt at proactively resolving issues, the River Runner's Etiquette and Responsibilities brochure was created and distributed in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources, Colorado State Parks, the Colorado River Outfitters Association, the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, American Whitewater, the Colorado White Water Association and the Rocky Mountain Canoe Club. The brochure educates boaters by promoting safety, respect for private property and other river users, natural resource and wildlife protection and low impact "leave no trace" practices.

Plaintiffs base their complaint upon People v. Emmert, 597 P.2d 1025 (Colo. 1979), a case in which the Supreme Court interpreted a prior version of the trespass statute and upheld the criminal conviction of boaters who had touched the bed of the river as they floated through private property on the Colorado River.

In direct response to the Emmert case, the state legislature amended the trespass statute (C. R. S. 18-4-504.5) to allow floating through private property. In so doing, the legislature indicated that it intended to allow boating and float trips that stayed on the water and off the bed and the banks owned by adjacent private property owners. The Senate sponsor stated, "If they want to canoe or tube or stay on the water, not bother the properties, why there would be no problem."

In 1983, the Attorney General of Colorado issued a formal opinion interpreting the impact of the statutory amendment. The Opinion answered two key questions: 1) Are boaters subject to criminal prosecution if they float across private lands? 2) Does the law of trespass allow private landowners to prohibit boating? The Attorney General concluded that the answer to both questions was "no."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop floating on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, a potentially dangerous precedent-setting case. CROA supports the defendant and the general public's right to float the rivers of Colorado. CROA members are professionals who educate their guests on river ecology and safety, as well as river etiquette. Citizens of Colorado and tourists from around the world have enjoyed floating Colorado's world-class rivers for decades -- representing an economic impact of more than $122 million in 2000, according to an annual report released by CROA. Colorado outfitters are currently taking reservations for the 2002 season.

More information on the "Right to Float" issue. A River Access Legal Defense Fund to support the law suit has been set up at Colorado Rivers Access Fund.

About CROA - The Colorado River Outfitters Association is a statewide association representing more than 55 commercial river outfitters. Colorado is the largest river rafting destination in the U.S. with 13 world class river systems and an economic impact of over $122 million annually. CROA produces a full- color directory free to consumers and provides additional information via its Web site, Besides river rafting, many outfitters also offer jeep tours, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and fly fishing adventures.

About Cannibal Outdoors - Jack and Leslie Nichols opened Cannibal Outdoors in 1994, specializing in outdoor recreational trips in the Lake City, Colorado region. Located in the beautiful San Juan mountains, Cannibal Outdoors offers professional guided whitewater, flyfishing, mountain biking, hiking, peak ascent and historic jeep tours. Their retail and rental shop, San Juan Basecamp, provides all the equipment and information needed for exploring the area.

Located in southwestern Colorado, at the confluence of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and Henson Creek, Lake City is the county seat of Hinsdale County. The county is approximately 97% public land (National Forest and Bureau of Land Management) with about half of that congressionally designated wilderness. Cannibal Outdoors operates by permit on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service, and is a member of America Outdoors and the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

About American Whitewater - American Whitewater is a national non-profit organization with 8,000 individual members and 80,000 affiliate club members such as CWWA. The organization is dedicated to conserving and restoring America's whitewater resources, and enhancing opportunities to enjoy them safely. American Whitewater's activities fall into three main areas: whitewater conservation, river access and safety. The organization has tracked several dozen reports of incidents in recent years threatening the public right to use Colorado's rivers.

About Colorado White Water Association - The Colorado White Water Association (CWWA) is a nonprofit, membership organization consisting of 850 paddlers from Colorado and nearby states. Established in 1958, CWWA is the oldest club in the nation formed strictly to promote whitewater sport. CWWA is also a long-time American Whitewater affiliate. The purpose of the CWWA is to promote the sport of whitewater paddling in the Rocky Mountain Region. CWWA introduces new paddlers to whitewater, provides training in technique and safety, supports racing, informs the public about whitewater issues, such as access and conservation threats, and works to resolve them.

About America Outdoors - America Outdoors® is an international, non-profit association of 600 members who provide a wide range of recreation services to the general public in 40 states and 60 foreign countries. Membership is open to professional companies who provide outdoor recreation services to the public or who supply equipment to the outdoor industry. Outfitter Members hold the permits required by local, county, state, or federal authorities. America Outdoors members serve approximately 2.5 million Americans each year.

Jason D. Robertson

635 Joseph Cir

Golden, CO 80403-2349

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