Colorado Whitewater works to preserve and enhance access to rivers. River access is a much bigger question than how to get on and off the river. It includes the legal right to float rivers flowing through private lands, boaters' rights to run a river during high water periods, appropriation of water for whitewater parks, government regulations to control use levels, and the more traditional problem of finding legal launches.
Peak to Plains Trail - Clear Creek Segment
Jeffco Open Space and Clear Creek County Open Space have partnered to build the Peaks to Plains Trail along Clear Creek and US Highway 6 in Clear Creek Canyon. The vision for the Peaks to Plains Trail is of a 65-mile off-highway opportunity to travel from the Continental Divide at the Eisenhower Tunnel to the confluence of the South Platte River in Adams County. Colorado Whitewater is a stakeholder in this project and remains actively involved in the planning process to provide private boaters’ perspective on developing the trail. Segment 1, beginning at the Canyon Mouth extending to the upstream portal of Tunnel 1, currently is under construction. CW will be part of an upcoming stakeholders meeting in early November 2019 and more information will be available about this project around mid-November.
Lower Blue River
Colorado Whitewater is working with Summit County to make improvements at the Lower Blue River put in to make the existing put in access more user friendly. This is a complicated matter as this involves Federal lands (Bureau of Reclamation and National Forest Service. During the summer of 2019, Summit County Open Space and Trails was able to sort out the property boundaries. CW now is working with Summit County to develop a plan for some basic improvements to be done with volunteer efforts in the spring/summer of 2020. Stay tuned for more information in the coming months.
Arkansas River Diversion Project
The Homestake Arkansas River Diversion (ARD), between Granite and Buena Vista, CO, was constructed in 1964 as the original intake for the Otero Pump Station, part of a trans-mountain raw water collection, storage, and delivery system co-owned and operated by the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, CO. It has been rehabilitated through a joint project between Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water along with significant input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board through grant funding. This project also included a boat chute making this section of the Arkansas River safely navigable. The project is now substantially complete and the boat chute is ready for the 2020 paddling season.
Browns Canyon National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument is a 21,586-acre national monument in Chaffee County, Colorado that was designated as such by President Barack Obama on February 19, 2015. Browns Canyon is the most popular destination for whitewater rafting in the country, and is also known for its fishing and hiking. The monument also provides habitat protection for bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, elk, and golden eagles. Browns Canyon includes 11,836 acres of the San Isabel National Forest and 9,750 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, and is jointly managed by the Forest Service and BLM. Monument establishment under the Antiquities Act (1906) afforded Federal protections for the area and requires development of a Resource Management Plan (RMP) to steward resources, objects, and values (ROVs), including resource uses to protect and preserve the area's unusual and scientifically significant geology and elevation range (a roughly 3,000-foot range) that support a diversity of plants and wildlife. On October 4, 2019, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) released for public comment a Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (RMP/EIS) to provide comprehensive management direction for the Browns Canyon National Monument. The 90-day public comment period ends on January 2, 2020. CW members are encouraged to review this document and comment on aspects related to whitewater recreation. CW has no opinion on this yet, but will alert readers to items that could impact private boaters as recreation is a part of the RMP.
Upper Colorado Wild & Scenic Stakeholder Group
The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group was formed as an independent, collaborative group in 2007 with the intention to balance permanent protection of the Outstandingly Remarkable Values, certainty for the stakeholders, water project yield, and flexibility for water users along the Upper Colorado River. CW is actively engaged in this group and supports their mission. We’re asking CW members to participate in a short survey on behalf of the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group. And, as a bit of extra incentive, there will be an opportunity at the end of this survey to sign up for a drawing for a $100 Visa gift card. Please provide your input!
South Platte Enhancement Board (SPEB)
The history of SPEB emanates from Denver Water receiving a right-of-way in 1931 for the possible construction of the 345,000 acre-foot Two Forks Reservoir at the confluence of the South Platte River and its North Fork. In 1968, the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, (W&SRA) was passed to protect wild rivers and scenic rivers from development that would substantially change their wild and/or scenic nature.
In the 1980’s, Denver Water and other Denver suburban entities were actively studying the possible construction of the reservoir. In 1984, studies were being conducted by the U.S. Forest Service that concluded portions of the South Platte River were eligible for protection under the W&SRA. Ultimately, the Two Forks Reservoir project was stopped by a veto from the EPA in 1991. Taking all studies and local concerns into consideration, the USFS encouraged the development of a local alternative to the W&SRA designation that would achieve maintenance and possible enhancement of the identified river values.
The precedent-setting, cooperative process for the development of a local alternative, known as the South Platte Protection Plan (SPPP), took from 1996 to 2004. In June 2004, the USFS issued a Record of Decision that halted the W&SRA process’ “suitability decision” and allowed the local alternative, the SPPP, to be implemented with the goal of maintaining, and possibly enhancing, the Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs) identified for the rivers. The initial meeting of SPEB, as the key overseer of the implementation for the SPPP, was on October 21, 2004 and included representation of stakeholders’ interests of the rivers. Since the board’s inception, Colorado Whitewater has represented the interests of Whitewater Recreation including the Elevenmile Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, Cheesman Canyon, Deckers, Bailey and Foxton runs. Since that time, SPEB has held monthly meetings, adopted bylaws, collected and managed the endowment fund, created a grant issuing process, and distributed grants for multiple projects of over $600,000 to date.
Floating Rivers Flowing through Private Lands
CW supports the right of river runners to float through private lands. Here are some points to consider with regard to private lands.
Boaters have free access to float down river on most of the major river systems in Colorado, as long as they enter and leave the river from public property. Public property includes established put-ins on public lands (e.g., BLM, Parks, Forest Service, and AHRA land). It also includes public right-of-ways created when, for example, a public road crosses a river or bridge, though the width of the right-of-way is sometimes not clear and the right of access does not necessarily include the right to park or unload boats there. There is, however, no right to cross private property to get to or from a river.
There is a great deal of dispute between boaters and private property owners about the right to float through private property. The issue is most intense on smaller, lower volume streams and creeks throughout the state. CW interprets criminal law forbidding trespass, and an Attorney General's Opinion from 1983, as permitting downstream passage on the waters of the state as long as no contact is made with the beds or banks of the stream (where the beds or banks are privately owned). Almost without exception, sheriffs, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers agree with CW's position. CW has defended and is committed to defending club members who are floating on rivers through private property and are cited for trespassing as a result of floating on rivers through private property, as well as boaters charged with trespassing because they scouted or portaged a section of river or unavoidable obstacles. Colorado does not recognize either a statutory or common law right to walk up to the high-water mark of rivers. In practice, on most rivers in Colorado, you are free to travel downstream as long as you do not get out of your boat.
Scout and Portage
CW wants you to be safe. There is nothing more important than your group's safety. Whenever you or any person wishes to scout or portage, you should encourage it, without exception.
We emphasize the need to be discreet and quick when portaging or scouting on private property, and the importance of remaining as close to the river as safely as possible. You should portage or scout only for so long as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances. Our emphasis on safety applies not just to insecure members of your parties, but especially to instances where you encounter an unexpected obstacle such as a tree, strainer, or fence. By all means, if you can safely navigate around such an unexpected obstacle, you should, but do not take any chances with your safety or that of the group. Scouting and portage do not include camping, eating lunch, fishing, littering, urinating, or defecating.
In an emergency, do whatever is necessary to protect life and limb.
Current hot spots include the Taylor River, the Deckers Run on the South Platte, the put-in and first mile of the North Fork of the Poudre, and the middle section of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison.
If you encounter an angry landowner, be polite, avoid confrontation and move on as quickly as you can. Do not aggravate the situation: make no threats; don't curse. Report the problem to CW.
In 1994, the Colorado Legislature enacted a law excepting properly equipped kayakers and whitewater canoeists from river closures ordered by sheriffs and other law enforcement officers. Under the current version of the statute, the only instances where law enforcement officers can close rivers are cases involving state of emergencies and other similar limited circumstances. If you believe a law enforcement officer has improperly closed a river to kayakers or whitewater canoeists, notify CW.
CW supports the appropriation of water for recreational in-channel diversions (RICDs) for whitewater parks. CW has participated in court challenges to water decrees for whitewater parks and has opposed legislation designed to hinder or limit appropriators of water for whitewater parks.
Although noncommercial use has been regulated on the major multi-day trips in the West since the 1970s, a trend has emerged to regulate use on popular whitewater day trips. CW does not object to reasonable regulations to preserve a quality boating experience and protect sensitive environmental resources. However, CW does oppose overly complex or excessive rules, and vigorously opposes regulations that intentionally or unintentionally grant preferential access for commercial use. CW has been involved in new, revised, or contemplated river management plans on the Grand Canyon, the Arkansas, the Poudre, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Blue River, and several other popular Rocky Mountain rivers, representing the interests of private boaters.