Rafters, landowners negotiate river dispute | VailDaily.com

Rafters, landowners negotiate river dispute

file photoA family of rafters float down the Blue River, one of the rural stretches of river in Colorado that could be affected by negotiations between landowners and the rafting industry. Ranchers fears they'll be sued if someone is hurt, while river outfitters desire to protect their businesses.

SALIDA – A Colorado panel hopes to settle a clash between landowners and river rafters, balancing ranchers fears they’ll be sued if someone is hurt with river outfitters desire to protect their businesses.

A task force set up after a rafting bill died in the state Legislature held its first meeting Wednesday in Salida.

“We are going to try to get neighbors to meet with neighbors without having to have legislation,” said Bob Hamel, a member of the task force. Hamel is Colorado River Outfitters Association president and owner of Arkansas River Tours in Cotopaxi.

The rafting dispute came to a head on the Taylor River last year when a developer told commercial rafters they could no longer float through his property. State Rep. Kathleen Curry, an unaffiliated state representative from Gunnison, proposed a bill in favor of the rafters.

But state lawmakers declined to intervene, and instead the 16-member Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force was set up to resolve rafting disputes.

At the meeting in Salida, Nathrop rancher Frank McMurry told the task force that he and other landowners feel vulnerable to lawsuits.

“I own the last piece of private property before you go into Browns Canyon, and the carrying capacity is 300 rafts. With seven people in a raft, that is 2,100 rafters a day and that is not counting the private boaters,” McMurry said. “My property has become an attractive nuisance and rafters have caused a big part of that.”

He added, “I don’t want to diminish rafting whatsoever, because it is very important to this county, but what are we as landowners, chopped liver?”

The task force also heard from Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Director Rob White, who said that the Arkansas River draws 42 percent of the state’s rafting business and called rafting a “huge economic machine” for the area.

White said his agency hears disputes and issues warnings and tickets to trespassers.

Greg Felt, who runs float fishing trips on the Arkansas River, said conflicts are often passive-aggressive. He said some private landowners have built rock diversions that force rafts to trespass because of low water. Others have hung big fish hooks or dead rattle snakes off of foot bridges to signal the rafters aren’t welcome.

The public is invited to submit comments and ideas for resolving disputes. Written input or comments may be provided to Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force via e-mail at riveraccess(at)state.co.us, via mail at Colorado Department of Natural Resources, attention Kim Burgess, 1313 Sherman St., Room 718, Denver, CO 80203.

The task force will hold more public meetings about rafting disputes and will send suggestions to the Legislature by the end of the year.

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