Mind the barbed wire
EAGLE COUNTY – Boaters assume it’s OK for them to hang out on the water. During the warmer months in the Vail Valley – and even some of the cooler ones – it’s common to see rafts and kayaks floating down the Eagle River. “You’re allowed to pass along the river,” said local Dudley Ottley, who rafts and once raced kayaks. “Even if you touch the bottom, you’re OK. You can float along any river in the state of Colorado, even if it’s private property.”Others beg to differ. “My understanding of the Colorado law is you can float past private property as long as you don’t touch the banks or bottom, but I know there are some land owners out there that would dispute that,” said Jack Bombardier, who owns fly fishing outfitter Confluence Casting in Gypsum. Bombardier said he’s heard of landowners around the state and even on the Eagle River who string barbed wire across the river. Karl Borski, the director of operations for Lakota River Guides, said the wire is officially meant to contain cattle, but it’s still dangerous and a pain for boaters. “They’re forcing you to break the law and trespass to get around the barbed wire,” Bombardier said. Water attorney John Hill said Colorado law is clear: Property owners whose land abuts a river or stream own the property all the way to the middle of the river bed. If they own property on both sides, they own the entire riverbed. This particular piece of law has fueled a lot of concern among rafters and fishermen, Hill said, noting that Colorado, unlike many other states, has not addressed the situation with a law that acknowledges property rights while allowing for public use of “navigable waterways.”Strictly speaking, people like rafters or anglers aren’t allowed to float on a river that’s part of private property if they touch the riverbed at all. But as Hill explained, different court cases have created an inconclusive understanding of the law.”A lot of people are misled by it,” he said. “There’s notion that’s almost become folklore, that you have a right to float if you don’t touch bottom. The reality is there isn’t a right; it’s just not a crime.”On http://www.mountainbuzz.com, a boating Web site, kayakers vehemently defended their right to be on the water, even poking fun at those who disagree, accusing them of being confrontational and not listening to the law. “We have the right to bear arms; we have the right to float,” Borski said. “The landowners own all the land. If you’re on a rock, you’re trespassing, but if you’re on the water, you’re not.”There are situations where you (can’t) stop because it’s private, and we’re really good about it,” Borski said. “We know where private property is, and we try to respect it. We’ve had no run-ins.”The most severe school of thought would say respecting the private property translates to not touching the water in addition to the land, Hill said. It may take a few more trips to court before this issue is figured out. “It’s highly contested, and there’s really no definitive case on it,” said Avon town attorney John Dunn. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or email@example.com. Vail, Colorado
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