Colorado rafting dispute settled – for now
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – A Colorado rafting dispute that had paddlers and property owners vowing a fiery political campaign is settled – for now.
Colorado’s governor on Tuesday announced that a group of river rafters and a real estate developer who didn’t want paddlers floating by his property reached a four-year agreement.
The agreement allows the rafters limited access to 1.7 miles of the Taylor River in western Colorado. The dispute started when developer Jackson-Shaw LLC bought land including the river and told rafters they’d no longer be able to float by.
The developer’s move prompted an intense debate over who owns riverways in Colorado, where tourists flock in summers to ride some of the West’s best freshwater rapids. The developer said that rafting trips would disturb a fishing preserve.
Gov. Bill Ritter’s office called for mediation in the dispute. A state lawmaker from Gunnison tried and failed to protect rafting rights in a bill considered last session.
After the bill failed, both sides vowed to seek ballot initiatives to put the question to voters, and 24 separate questions have been proposed. The four-year agreement announced Tuesday calls for both sides to agree to recall those proposals. Ritter hailed the decision to withdraw the flurry of ballot proposals “courageous.”
Matt Brown, an owner of Scenic River Tours, said the rafters will make changes to try not to disturb fishing or other activities along the Taylor.
“We’re gonna float through as expeditiously and quietly as possible,” Brown said Tuesday.
However, the “right to float” question isn’t settled. The agreement applies only to the stretch of the Taylor River in dispute, leaving unanswered the question of whether property owners with public rivers on their land can prevent paddlers, even if the rafters don’t stop on privately owned banks.
“I do believe it needs to be addressed,” Brown said of permanent floating rights.
Don Sabrowski, ranch manager for the developer’s land, said the agreement requires the rafting companies to settle on 20 total boats a day, up to 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon.
“We’re very hopeful that this’ll work,” Sabrowski said. He added that rafting trips can disturb fish.
“A lot of money has been invested in this property for the purpose of fishing, and any rafts floating through have an impact,” he said.
Ritter said he’s set up a panel of landowners, commercial and recreational river users and even police to propose a statewide procedure for settling river disputes. The report is due by the end of the year, in time for lawmakers to consider permanent rafting rules next session.