‘The Screaming Lady’ of Gore Creek | VailDaily.com

‘The Screaming Lady’ of Gore Creek

Alex Miller

VAIL – She tried being polite. It didn’t work.Now, Kathryn Birch has taken a less-kind tack in her effort to keep people from fishing Gore Creek from her backyard: She yells at them or calls the cops.Birch, who has lived in West Vail with her family since 1993, said the trouble started when the Vail built a bike path along the creek. Removal of the trees and much of the foliage along the riverbank made the area susceptible to erosion, which is part of the reason Birch wishes anglers would cast their rods elsewhere.And then there’s the privacy issue. Birch’s back yard runs right to the creek’s edge, so when fishermen ignore the “No trespassing” signs and stand on the bank, they’re literally in her backyard.”Ninety-nine percent of the people are nice,” Birch said. For those who aren’t, she gives them what-for, jokingly referring to herself as “The Screaming Lady.””I’m sorry that it takes doing that, but when I was polite, they didn’t listen.”Last week, Birch showed up at Waterwise Wednesday, a program put on by the Eagle River Watershed Council. The topic was the right to float on Colorado rivers, and the speakers were two of the state’s top water lawyers: John Hill and Steve Bushong. Birch, who said she can’t afford attorneys to help her with the trespassing situation, said she wanted to hear from Hill or Bushong if she was on firm legal ground.There’s little doubt that she is. As Hill said at Waterwise Wednesday, 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.”Prime fishing holeBut in Birch’s case, there’s no doubt that anglers are touching bottom and trespassing when they’re standing on the bank or in the river. There was some original belief that there was a fishing easement allowing such, but no record of such has been found, Birch said. Describing herself as a shy person, Birch said she now tries to avoid confronting people and calls the cops. She said when she calls the Vail Police, the officers talk to the trespasser and generally just check their fishing licenses and ask them to leave.”It’s not a real common problem,” said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger. “It’s not easy for people or police officers to know where property lines are, so we just ask them to move on and, typically, they do.”Still, they keep coming. The section of Gore Creek that runs past her house was reconfigured by the man who built her house, she said. He moved rocks around and created some fish-friendly areas that make the stretch of creek particularly good for catching fish.”You can almost stick your hand in and pull them out,” Birch said.So even though the construction of the bike path, the removal of the trees and the proximity of the interstate makes the fishing hole somewhat less than beautiful, anglers can’t seem to keep away.”I had one guy in an SUV drive up on the bike path, and get out with a cell phone in one hand and a beer in the other,” Birch said, adding that she regularly has to patrol the bank to pick up trash left behind.”The younger people are the worst,” she said. “They say ‘It’s a free country’ and call me a bitch.”Not all are unwelcome, though.”The older locals are more respectful, and some of them I know and let them fish if they do what I ask,” she said.What really grinds her gears, she said, are the guides who bring beginner students to the area – presumably because it’s so easy to catch fish there. In her opinion, the town could do her and local anglers a great service by creating a public fishing hole in another section of Gore Creek.”I think it would really behoove the town to create a fishing hole over by Cascade,” she said. “I’d like to be able to enjoy my backyard with the confrontations.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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