Protecting rafting: Bill would halt companies from being sued for trespassing while floating

The long-standing and oft-contentious battle over whether a river runner legally can float through private property may get the ultimate test this year.

Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison has introduced a bill into the state Legislature aimed at protecting commercial raft companies from being sued for trespass when floating over and through private property.

“The bill would allow incidental contact with property when commercial rafters went through private property,” said Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Outfitters in Almont. “It would also allow commercial rafts to portage around obstacles in the river.”

Although run-ins between property owners and floaters isn’t new, ranging from barbed wire stretched across rivers to outright verbal and physical confrontations, the impetus for Curry’s legislation is the dust-up coming from a new fishing-related subdivision being planned on the Taylor River.

Schumacher, whose resort sits at the junction of the East and Taylor rivers, told the Crested Butte Town council last week that the development, called “The Wilder on the Taylor River,” has prohibited rafters, in large part the local fishing guides with clients, from floating through the development.

The Taylor is a popular fishing river and it’s provided a steady source of income and entertainment for guide companies as well as private floaters.

Landowners occasionally will test the so-called “right to float” and declare off-limits sections of rivers flowing through their property, although none have made as strong a statement as the developer of “Wilder.”

Colorado law says the adjacent landowner owns the river bottom and Gunnison water attorney John Hill argues that allowing a floater to trespass over private property amounts to a “takings” violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The state doesn’t have a “right-to-float” law and any contrary opinion is “folklore,” said Hill in a recent article in the Aspen Daily News. Hill is representing “Wilder” land developer Jackson-Shaw Co. of Dallas.

The Jackson-Shaw Web site describes the proposed development on the former Wapiti Ranch as an “exclusive 2,000-acre shared heritage ranch and recreation preserve near Crested Butte (with) 15 premium homestead sites located on the famous Taylor River, providing private access to 2 miles of exceptional fly-fishing waters that surpass Gold Medal standards.”

The last time the trespassing law was contested was in 2000 when Cannibal Outfitters in Lake City tried to force the issue after being ticketed for trespassing on land along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison.

The case never went to court as the attorney fees eventually caused Cannibal Outfitters to go out of business.

Curry’s bill, called the “River Outfitters Viability Act,” has the support of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents more than 50 licensed outfitters in Colorado.

According to the CROA Web site, commercial rafting contributed $142 million to Colorado’s economy in 2008.

4-H looking for shooting instructors: The 4-H Youth Shooting Program for Delta, Mesa, Montrose and Ouray counties is seeking volunteer shooting instructors. A training session will be conducted March 19-21 in Montrose.

Instructors will be certified to teach firearm safety, marksmanship and responsible use of firearms.

Cost of the session is $85 and includes teaching materials, training equipment and lunch. Scholarships and stipends to cover costs are available.

Information: Mesa County Extension Office, 244-1834.

Sticking to the trees: Here is a tip for cross-country skiers on Grand Mesa from Christie Aschwanden, president of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council.

During storm cycles and periods of snow and wind, the GMNC grooming crew concentrates early efforts on ski trails that go through the trees, such as the lower Loop 3.

These tree-shaded trails don’t drift in quite as readily as the trails crossing open ground and tend to hold the groomed tracks longer.

A recent outing at County Line proved the value of this tip, as high winds quickly covered the open trails with snow while tracks still were visible along the tree-lined trails.


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