In the News...
Boater Rights Bill Introduced
The Mountain Mail
A new bill clarifying rights of commercial guides to operate on historically boated Colorado rivers is being introduced to the Colorado General Assembly.
Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison and Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton are sponsoring the bill as the Colorado Outfitters Viability Act.
Bob Hamel, chairman of Colorado River Outfitters Association and owner of Arkansas River Tours in Salida, said the bill stems from an out-of-state land owner threatening legal action against commercial river outfitters using a stretch of the Taylor River near Gunnison.
The landowner, Hamel said, told outfitters he would issue a 2009 permit to run the portion of river through his property if guides agreed not to run the stretch during the 2010 season.
"He didn't have authority to permit outfitters, and guides came to us (Colorado River Outfitters Association) about the issue," Hamel said.
Guides have run the Taylor River about 20-30 years and portaged (carried rafts on shore) around a low bridge on that part of the river, Hamel said.
Colorado law states boaters have a right to navigate rivers and streams across private land as long as they don't touch the riverbank.
The proposed bill would allow licensed outfitters to not only operate on historically run rivers crossing private property, but to make contact with the riverbank and portage around hazards which could put passengers at risk.
Landowners would also be protected by the proposed bill, Hamel explained, because they wouldn't be liable if a boater or angler is injured portaging or during incidental contact on their property while on a commercial river trip.
Historically run rivers in Colorado are not identified in the bill. However, Hamel said there's 20-30 years of documentation to identify the commercially run rivers.
As the "most commercially rafted river in the world," Arkansas River guides and riverside land owners will be impacted by the proposed bill if it's passed, Hamel explained.
"This bill is very important to the (boating) industry," Hamel said.
A portion of the draft bill states, "The general assembly recognizes river outfitters as an established business on rivers flowing within and without the state, make significant contributions to the economy of this state."
Based upon the proposed bill fact sheet, commercial river running contributed $142 million to the Colorado economy in 2008. If the bill is not approved, that economic impact "would be at serious risk."