NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

River Access Becoming Hot Issue

July 27, 2001

With the number of whitewater recreationists growing by leaps and bounds, the issue of access to rivers and streams that cross private property is becoming contentious. Observers report that Colorado is the epicenter of confrontations between rafters and canoers on the one hand, and riverfront landowners on the other.

  • Whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing have almost tripled nationally just since the mid-1990s -- as participants search out nearly 3,000 stretches of floatable river in the nation.
  • That trend has been accompanied by the public's rush to build second or vacation homes along rivers and streams -- setting the stage for conflicts.
  • Landowners complain of trespassing, loss of privacy, vandalism and the litter of beer cans and other trash.
  • Water enthusiasts claim that rivers have been the nation's roads since colonial times -- and they have a right to float, so long as they don't trespass getting to or from the water.

In most states, public right-of-way reaches to a river's high-water mark, from bank to bank. But in Colorado, even floating on a stream through private land is considered trespassing. While paddlers there are sometimes arrested, they are never prosecuted.

Source: Patrick O'Driscoll, "Boating Rights Hit Choppy Waters," USA Today, July 27, 2001.


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