Law keeps Colorado peaks open, eases liability fears |

Law keeps Colorado peaks open, eases liability fears

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signs into law a new bill intended to provide access to fourteeners and limit liability of private land owners at the top of the State Capitol in Denver, Wednesday, March 8, 2006. Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Genesee, back left, and Mount Democrat owner Ben Wright look on. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER – Lawsuits and liability weren’t much on Jim Gehres’ mind 40 years ago when he finished climbing all 54 of Colorado’s highest mountains the first time around.After Gov. Bill Owns signed a bill Wednesday to keep the big peaks accessible and free of legal hassles, the 73-year-old Gehres won’t have to worry if he goes climbing again – and he said he might.

The new law will allow owners to permit people to cross their land and mining claims without being sued for any accidents that might occur. Trails on a half-dozen of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks cross private or leased land, presenting an obstacle for peak-baggers – climbers who set out to reach the top of all the “Fourteeners.””This is kind of an elevation celebration,” Owens said as he signed the legislation on the highest outdoor balcony of the State Capitol. The balcony, which is closed to the public, has markers pointing to some of the state’s famous Fourteeners, though light snow obscured the view of the nearby Rockies.

The bill requires the U.S. Forest Service and climbing groups to put up signs warning of dangerous abandoned mines, mark the trails and educate the public about private property rights.Access became an issue when some owners posted “no trespassing” signs for fear of being sued if a hiker fell into an old mine shaft or was injured some other way. Although hikers could ignore the signs with little fear of prosecution, they were breaking the law to reach the summit.

“It looked like a year or two ago when this first popped up that this was going to be a deterrent,” said Bill Markley of Lakewood, the Colorado Mountain Club’s safety and leadership chairman. “Now it’s cleared away again.”

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