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Water Law

Headwaters Fall 2010 -- Recreation

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In Fall 2010, Water Education Colorado widens its scope to explore conflicts between both land and water-based recreational users. Inspired by the 2009 legislative attempt to clarify commercial boating rights on Colorado's streams, this issue of Headwaters reports on that issue and more. As recreation in Colorado approaches a $10billion per year industry, the voices of those stakeholders are increasingly involved in water resource decision-making.  We explore both how recreation is included in project planning and management, and which user groups are favored over others, through examination of recent attempts at wilderness designation, the challenge of boating on Colorado's heavily managed streams, the processes land and water managers use to enhance or limit recreation, and of course, the conflict between private riparian landowners and the floaters traveling by (or through) their property.

Read featured articles below, or view the magazine online.

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Fighting for the Right

NoTrespassing
By Jerd Smith

With additional reporting by Jayla Poppleton

To float or forbid: the controversial line between public access and property rights on Colorado’s streams

No trespassing signs posted along Colorado’s streams and rivers signal boaters that they are about to cross through controversial waters. Some are crisp and formal; others are scrawled in spray paint on aging plywood. The message to boaters is the same: keep off the premises.

At times the simple visual message has been accompanied by aggressive action. Boaters say they have faced firearms pointed in their direction and watched bullets skip across the water. Commercial raft guides have witnessed a client hooked in the cheek following an intentional cast by a guest at a private fishing resort. Kayakers have gotten caught in barbed wire they believe was erected maliciously.

At the same time, ranchers say boaters have unnecessarily cut fencing they use to keep their cows in. Fishermen staying at riverside resorts have complained about boats disrupting fish pools. And private landowners have called outfitters’ clients obnoxious.

Such conflicts have cropped up across Colorado, from the Arkansas River to the Yampa, from South Boulder Creek to the Taylor River. At their core, each questions how a public resource-the state’s hallmark rivers and streams-can be used by the public while protecting the property rights of those whose lands run alongside, and under, the streams.

Read more: Fighting for the Right

Recreation in Colorado

By Joshua Zaffos

 With 300-plus days of sunshine a year and a diverse geography of plains, mountains, canyons and rivers, Colorado has a distinct advantage when it comes to luring people outside. More than 75 percent of Coloradans-not to mention tourists from out of state-participate in some outdoor recreational activity every week, in locales ranging from urban greenways to wilderness areas, according to Colorado’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, known as SCORP.

Colorado’s relationship with the outdoors is partially responsible for the state’s current standing as the fittest in the nation-or “least obese”-as declared in June by the Trust for America’s Health. The financial benefits attributed to recreation are also telling. “Active recreation”-bicycling, backpacking, climbing, snow sports, paddling, trail running, hunting and fishing-contributes $10 billion a year to Colorado’s economy, according to the most recent assessment by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, completed in 2006. And the broader spectrum of recreation and tourism in Colorado is credited with generating $21.5 billion in sales in 2007-while agriculture was at $7.2 billion-out of statewide receipts totaling $450 billion, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the Front Range Water Council.

“Colorado, no matter how you look at it, is ahead of the game when it comes to getting people outdoors and recreating,” says Scott Babcock, strategic planning program manager for Colorado State Parks.

Read more: Recreation in Colorado

Shared Space, Clashing Values

The challenge of managing user conflicts in Colorado’s great outdoors

 By Wendy Worrall Redal

Hundreds of miles of trails across thousands of acres of public open space add up to a back-door paradise for Boulder residents like James Dziezynski. Any time he’s not at work or asleep, you’re likely to find Dziezynski taking full advantage of Boulder County’s many nearby opportunities for recreation.

A hardcore mountain biker, Dziezynski relishes the single track at Heil Ranch, a 5,000-acre tract of open space on the north edge of town. You won’t find him there with his border collie, Fremont, however, as Heil Ranch-a haven for wildlife-is off-limits to dogs. Fremont accompanies him elsewhere, though Dziezynski is worried that plans for new leash laws may inhibit the dog’s freedom in a number of locales the pair currently enjoys together.

Sometimes, this biker and hiker-cum-writer seeks solitude in high-alpine environs. Author of “The Best Summit Hikes in Colorado,” he appreciates the restorative peace of wilderness, away from foothills throngs-unless, of course, you’re talking about bagging fourteeners, which has become a crowded pastime in its own right.

While Dziezynski is but one individual, the multiple ways he uses Colorado’s public lands demonstrates the challenge in managing for different user experiences and expectations. Hikers don’t like sharing trails with horses and mountain bikes. Dog lovers yearn for more places where their pups can romp off-leash. Non-dog folk worry about encounters with pets along a narrow trail. Wildlife aficionados would rather not see dogs on trails at all. Fly fishermen resent flotillas of noisy rafters, who in turn don’t want power boats on peaceful stretches of river. Target shooters and ATV riders square off with campers seeking quiet, while snowmobilers skirmish with backcountry skiers as both covet powder-filled slopes and meadows for their competing versions of fun.

Read more: Shared Space, Clashing Values

Wilderness Wary

HiddenGemsAdditional acres proposed for the nation’s highest level of government protection ignite strong feelings against exclusion

 by Allen Best

To understand the controversy over the Hidden Gems wilderness campaign, you must first appreciate the nature of existing federal lands with wilderness designation. Since 1964, when Congress enacted the Wilderness Act, these set-aside lands have mostly been in the deepest backcountry, along the mountain spines, in places where rock faces abound and winter snows linger into summer. There are exceptions, such as where the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area lies cheek-and-jowl with residential neighborhoods in Vail and Summit County. But, for the most part, there are buffers between the frequent scurrying of people and these tracts that, by congressional definition, are “untrammeled by man” while retaining their “primeval character and influence.”The 40 Hidden Gems parcels, if designated by Congress, would shift the focus of wilderness in Colorado. These 335,000 acres west of the Continental Divide have been proposed by several conservation groups as an attempt to protect more ecologically critical land at lower elevations. Some argue that they have diluted wilderness character. Although 26 parcels are adjacent to existing wilderness areas, many are proximate to towns, roads and even highways. That’s where the fight comes in.

Read more: Wilderness Wary

Getting on Track with Off-Highway Use

By Joshua Zaffos

 During an era when just about every conceivable outdoor activity is on the rise, the growth in off-highway vehicle use is staggering. Between 1995 and 2008, Colorado’s OHV registration program charted a 223 percent increase in registered vehicles-now at about 133,000 OHVs each year-which observers chalk up to the increased affordability and capability of machines and riders’ growing recognition of the state’s vast suitable terrain.

The astronomical increase has had some overwhelming impacts. The vehicles’ inherent versatility and ability to go anywhere, fast, combined with a lack of clearly marked trails has translated into massive habitat fragmentation over entire landscapes. Off-trail riding and reckless behavior can also harm streambeds and water quality, spread invasive weeds and disturb archaeological sites. It only takes a few negligent jeeps, motorbikes or ATVs to scar landscapes and make the whole motorized community look like scofflaws.

Environmentalists and “quiet-use” recreation groups, who advocate for hiking and backpacking, backcountry hunting and fishing, cross-country skiing, and other “human-powered” activities, also contend that the noisy engines ruin the tranquility of open lands and contribute to air pollution.

Read more: Getting on Track with Off-Highway Use

Going With the Flow

Water management adapts to include recreation

 By George Sibley

With additional reporting by Jayla Poppleton

 As the story goes, a group of private boaters had put in for a two- to three-day trip down the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado. Forecasts for releases from the McPhee Dam upstream were favorable, and the group had everything timed and loaded. But the water didn’t last, and the group found themselves stranded down a river, without a river. Whether a true tale or urban legend, the prevalence of this campfire story has dogged boaters on the Dolores River for years.

On a river considered by American Whitewater to be an icon of the West, second only to the Grand Canyon as a uniquely southwestern, multi-day float with high-quality rapids, unpredictable flow management has led to a steadily declining boating industry. Although some of that decline can be attributed to the “dry 2000s,” whitewater recreation on the Dolores has effectively shrunk by 75 percent from what it was during the “wet 1990s.”

“People come from all over the world to float the Dolores,” said Nathan Fey, director of American Whitewater’s Colorado Stewardship Program. “If they could better predict flows it would have far-reaching benefits to the area.” The Colorado River Outfitters Association reported that in 2008, with 868 commercial users on the Dolores, direct expenditures in local communities were nearly $100,000, with a total economic impact of $246,000.

Read more: Going With the Flow

Boating on a grand scale: Kate Thompson & Andy Hutchinson

A couple works to protect an iconic river, and a local one

 By Emily Palm

 Float through the Grand Canyon with Andy Hutchinson and Kate Thompson and the journey would mimic that of environmentalists Edward Abbey and Martin Litton when they explored the canyon 40 years ago. Rather than motoring the world-famous stretch of the Colorado River in a few days, the couple guides groups in wooden dories.

Over the course of the two-week trip, they teach a wide range of subjects from river ecology to canyon geology to the evolution of boats used in the canyon. Both belong to the Grand Canyon River Guides, an association that works to protect river ecosystems and improve the guides’ lifestyle through healthcare and career counseling. From protecting freshwater springs to lobbying for more launch dates and getting signs posted at campsites, they work closely with the National Park Service on a wide array of issues. “It’s become a really nice dance we’ve done together,” Thompson says. “We consider ourselves stewards of the resources.”

Read more: Boating on a grand scale: Kate Thompson & Andy Hutchinson

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Water Law Resources

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