Colorado rafting access likely headed to November ballot |

Colorado rafting access likely headed to November ballot

Jessica Fender
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado
Denver PostA group of students rafts on the Arkansas River near Parkdale en route to Royal Gorge. The property rights/river use fight will probably go to voters in November.

One of the most contentious bills of the legislative session – a proposal to settle a decades-long dispute between rafters and landowners – sank in a conference committee Tuesday.

The six-lawmaker panel deadlocked when members couldn’t settle on rules regarding how, when or whether river enthusiasts should be able to float through private property.

The lack of a legislative resolution probably means voters will be asked to settle the fight on the November ballot. Twenty ballot initiatives on the subject are currently waiting in the wings, though that number will certainly be culled before Election Day.

Rep. Kathleen Curry, sponsor of House Bill 1188, said none of the initiatives fully address complicated issues such as portage and trespassing that are likely to be glossed over by campaigns on both sides.

“We are unable to reach an agreement, but that doesn’t mean the issue goes away,” said Curry, I-Gunnison. “Tensions are up back home, but I couldn’t help them.”

Curry said after the hearing that she will not ask for a second conference committee, probably her only chance to save HB 1188 in any form.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, said she would let the bill die on the Senate calendar.

Meanwhile, private mediation on the conflict that brought the bill to the fore continues, according to lobbyist Mike Feeley, who represents land developer Jackson-Shaw.

The Texas company purchased both sides of the bank along a 2-mile stretch of the Taylor River and plans an exclusive vacation community. It threatened to bar two Almont rafting outfitters from floating through the property.

At Gov. Bill Ritter’s direction, the rafting and land-development companies have started to negotiate a compromise.

At first, HB 1188 would have allowed only commercial rafting outfitters the right to pass through private land on rivers that they’d recently rafted.

It was changed in a Senate committee to open most Colorado rivers that run through private property to all river enthusiasts.

In the Senate, the proposal was changed to require only a study of the issue, a move that saved vulnerable Democrats from an up or down vote on an issue that pits property rights against river users.

Senate leadership then appointed members to the conference committee who were unfriendly to the bill, giving Curry little hope of saving the legislation this year, she said.

Jessica Fender: 303-954-1244 or

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