Colorado River Access
American Whitewater's Colorado River Access Program works to improve river access and public safety throughout the state by working with landowners and managers, paddlers, law enforcement, and lawmakers to understand Colorado's river access laws and the ongoing threats to public safety. Our primary goals of this program are to ensure that paddlers are able to get out of the river on private property in an emergency or in the need of a portage without being charged with trespass and to protect and establish public access areas for recreational boaters.
Colorado is the only state in the west that has yet to determine the extent of the public's rights to float and recreate on streams running through private property. Although the Colorado Constitution says that the rivers of the state belong to the people, a 1979 Colorado Supreme Court case and subsequent Attorney General opinion presents numerous unresolved issues. Paddlers and anglers are consistently harassed or threatened by landowners or law enforcement in areas of Colorado, and American Whitewater works diligently to find solutions to these conflicts as they arise. In recent years we have worked with the state of Colorado to clarify the trespass statutes, recreational use statutes, and limits of liability for private landowners across the state.
In 2010, American Whitewater advocated for the creation of the Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force, which was established by Executive Order B 2010-010 on July 6, 2010. Since its creation, the purpose of the Task Force has been, “On an as-needed basis to help mediate and resolve particularly acute disputes between boater(s), either commercial or non-commercial, and the relevant private property owner(s).” The Task Force is an incredibly useful tool and has been used to solve numerous river access conflicts in Colorado. American Whitewater staff played an advisory role in the development of the Task Force and today we use it as a framework to protect the rights of boaters throughout the State.
A more recent legal development has the potential to decide the controversial debate regarding the ownership of Colorado’s riverbeds - for better or for worse. On February 2, 2018, a lawsuit (Hill vs. Warsewa 18-cv-00277) between Roger Hill, a fisherman, and Mark Warsewa and Linda Joseph, private landowners, was filed in Federal Court. However, the State of Colorado intervened with an attempt to dismiss the case from the courts and on May 29th, 2018 the fisherman dismissed his complaint “without prejudice” on his own accord. Hill then re-filed his case (Hill vs. Warsewa 18-cv-01710) in the Colorado District Court on July 6, 2018 and as of November 9, the case is still active. One of Hill’s favorite fishing spots is adjacent to the Warsewa-Joseph property on the Arkansas River downstream of Salida. Hill claims he and his close friends have been threatened multiple times, including being shot at with a firearm. Conversely, Warsewa and Joseph claim that the bed of the river adjacent to their property is their private land and that they don’t want people fishing there. The outcome of the Hill vs. Warsewa case will set a precedent for future river access disputes in Colorado and could affect our rights as boaters. American Whitewater is diligently monitoring the status of the case and will update this page as developments occur. Please see the documents listed on the right side of the page to review the legal documents that have been filed in this case.
Support Colorado River Access on Colorado Gives Day!
11/29/2018 - by Kestrel Kunz
Colorado Gives Day is on December 4 this year and is fast approaching! Go here to schedule your online donation to support American Whitewater's Colorado River Access Program. All donations made to American Whitewater on Colorado Gives Day (December 4) will be put towards our River Access Program in Colorado. American Whitewater works to improve river access and public safety throughout the state by working with landowners and managers, paddlers, law enforcement, and lawmakers to understand Colorado's river access laws and the ongoing threats to public safety. Thank you for your support!
Voluntary River Closure Proposed On the Slate River (CO)
11/02/2018 - by Kestrel Kunz
Crested Butte CO - Alleged disruption to a Heron Rookery and concerned private landowners have led to a "Voluntary Closure" of the Slate River from the Gunsight Bridge to the Town of Crested Butte between March 15 and June 21 for the 2019 season. The Slate River between Oh Be Joyful Campground and Skyland Bridge, a 10.5 mile stretch, provides an incredibly scenic and unique flatwater paddling experience in the Gunnison Valley. The Voluntary clsoure is a product of the Slate River Floating Management Plan, created by a Working Group convened by the Town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Land Trust. The Working Group was created in direct response to pressure from the local community including conservationists and private landowners adjacent to the river, who are concerned that a recent increase in boating activity is disturbing a Heron Rookery that straddles the Slate River.
Court to decide on Public Access to Water Flowing through Private Property
03/20/2018 - by Nathan Fey
Arkansas River, Colorado - The latest lawsuit over who owns the bed of a river, this time on the Arkansas River, resurrects an issue that many western states are tackling: does a river used for commercial purposes at the time of statehood grant the public rights to use the river for recreational purposes?
Reprinted from Water Education Colorado
Colorado Honors the legacy of Matt Brown
10/30/2017 - by Nathan Fey
Gunnison, Colorado - Last Wednesday, Matt Brown - longtime river guide, adventurer, and pillar of the Gunnison Valley community- passed away tragically after an accident in Moab. Matt was so much to so many. At the request of his family and friends, contributions in Matt's memory can be made to American Whitewater’s River Access work in Colorado. Matt was a strong ally and advisor in our work to protect the public’s rights to float and fish in the State. We miss him immensely.
River Access Task Force Submits Recommendations to Colorado Governor
02/02/2011 - by Nathan Fey
Colorado - On December 23, Governor Bill Ritter issued a report outlining a series of proposals for resolving disputes between landowners and rafters in Colorado. He also signed an executive order creating the River Access Mediation Commission to provide a way for some of the most contentious conflicts between boaters and property owners to be addressed. The Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force was a 17-member group created in July of 2010 to help craft ways to sort out conflicts on Colorado rivers on a stretch-by-stretch basis as those disputes arise.
AW Releases Colorado River Access Video
09/21/2010 - by Nathan Fey
American Whitewater and our affiliates in Colorado have been working on issues with safe public access to rivers in the state. Our staff and partners in Colorado have created this film, which focuses on the recent conflicts on the Taylor River and the risk to the public's right to float on this pristine Colorado waterway.
River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force created in Colorado
07/28/2010 - by Nathan Fey
Colorado's Governor has created a Task Force charged with establishing a framework for landowners and boaters to efficiently and fairly resolve disputes over the use of rivers as they arise. The Task Force will NOT decide whether there is a "right to float" in Colorado.
AW Testifies in Colorado Senate on Right to Float
03/16/2010 - by Nathan Fey
American Whitewater staff and members of Colorado Whitewater provided testimony yesterday on HB 10-1188 in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee.
After over 7 hours of testimony, the Committee voted 4-3 to move the bill into the full Senate for debate. Thanks to the efforts of CW and AW, the senate has amended the bill to include all paddlers, not just commercial outfitters, and moves Colorado closer to recognizing the publics "right to float" on Colorado's Rivers.
Take Action on Colorado's Right to Float Bill!
03/04/2010 - by Nathan Fey
This spring, the Colorado Legislature is considering a bill, which helps protect the rights of commercial boaters to float on commercial sections of river, and increases the safety of boaters by decriminalizing incidental contact with private land to portage obstacles. HB -1188 is a good bill, but doesn't go far enough! HB-1188 passed out of the House by a vote of 40-25, and is scheduled to be introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote on March 17th. We urge you to contact members of Colorado’s Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to support HB-1188, and to amend the bill to include all members of the paddling public.
Vote Today! Should Recreational Boaters have a Right to Float in Colorado?
02/23/2010 - by Nathan Fey
A couple of Colorado media outlets came out opposed to HB 1188! But we can fight back and let our
opinions be heard too.
VOTE NOW in the ONLINE POLL - it takes 1 minute!
Colorado Legislature Tackles River Access Bill
02/10/2010 - by Nathan Fey
The Colorado legislature is considering House Bill 10-1188 (HB-1188), legislation that attempts to clarify Colorado’s river access laws. As written, HB-1188 is limited to commercial outfitters and sections of river that have been commercially rafted. AW continues to work to amend the bill to include private paddlers, and is neither supporting or opposing the bill at this time.
Colorado Bill Proposes Right of River Navigation
01/06/2010 - by Nathan Fey
The Colorado River Outfitters Association is supporting new legislation that protects Colorado’s tourism industry by clarifying the rights of
commercial guides to operate on Colorado’s historically run rivers. Colorado State
Representative Kathleen Curry has indicated her willingness to carry the River Jobs Protection
Act in the Second Regular Session of the Colorado General Assembly. American Whitewater has been
involved in drafting and review of the bill, and will release a official statement later this
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-01710 #45
10.09.18 - Defendants Warsewa's and Joseph's Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Certify a Question to the Colorado Supreme Court
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-01710 #44
10.09.18 - The State of Colorado's Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Certify a Question to the Colorado Supreme Court
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-01710 #43
09.18.18 - Motion to Certify Question of the Nature of the State of Colorado's Title in Navigable Riverbeds to the Colorado Supreme Court Pursuant to Colo. App. R. 21.1.(a)
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-01710 #4
07.06.18 - Original complaint filed in current case by Plaintiff Hill
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-00277 #12
03.08.18 - Order setting Scheduling/Planning Conference for May 29, 2018
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-00277 #1
Initial complaint filed against Warsewa and Joseph on February 2, 2018.
- Hill vs. Warsewa cv-01710 #46
10.23.18 - Plaintiff Reply to Motion to Certify Question of the Nature of the State of Colorado's Title in Navigable Riverbeds to the Colorado Supreme Court Pursuant to Colo. App. R. 21.1(a)
Colorado Honors the legacy of Matt Brown
AW Releases Colorado River Access Video
Colorado Whitewater Assn