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A right to float

Dear Editor:

Colorado should pass House Bill 1188. It permits commercial raft guides and their passengers to float down Colorado rivers and not be liable for criminal trespass charges if they bump into rocks in the stream bed or get out onto the stream bank to portage around an obstacle such as an irrigation dam, fallen tree, or a barbed wire fence put up to keep cattle from wandering.

The Colorado River Outfitters Association is sponsoring the bill because a Texas real estate developer wants to close a river to the public. The out-of-state developer recently bought sizable frontage along the Taylor River near Crested Butte, and wants to develop a private fishing preserve and keep commercial rafting companies from floating past his property. Unfortunately, his gain will be the public’s loss.

This bill would resolve a legal dilemma. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 1979 in People v. Emmert that a landowner owned all the land below his property and the airspace above, and this arcane law thus allowed him to exclude rafters from using the Colorado River. The Colorado Legislature immediately reacted after Emmert was arrested by amending the criminal trespass law to say that rivers weren’t included in the definition of “premises” that could be broken into. Since “premises” don’t include rivers, you could not be guilty of trespass when floating them as long as you didn’t bump into rocks in the stream bed or banks.

That’s unrealistic, so House Bill 1188 sensibly says that you can’t be convicted of trespass if you bump into rocks. From 1998 to 2000 I kept track of access problems for the national organization American Whitewater, and of 99 incidents reported nationwide, nearly 40 percent occurred in Colorado alone. You have the right to float in every other state, and every other country of the world for that matter. Colorado law is out of step, and county sheriffs are tired of being asked to enforce it.

Landowners are claiming that this law will cause an untold increase in river traffic and take away their property values. That’s unrealistic. The same number of people who currently enjoy rivers on weekends during the two or three months a year they typically run will continue to enjoy them. It is a few landowners that are attempting to restrict the rights of the public. Do you really think that land will lose its value because people float along it? I don’t. Please call your senator to support House bill 1188.

Ken Ransford

Carbondale


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