Rafting companies watch water court case
SUMMIT COUNTY<The Cannibal Outdoors “Right to Float” court case has garnered attention from more than just rafting companies. And with good reason.If Yosef Lutwak, the property owner who has taken the Lake City rafting company to court, wins his case, it may set a precedent for river use across Colorado.Citizens and commercial users currently are protected from criminal trespass by a 1977 amendment to trespass statute and a further interpretation, in 1983, by Attorney General Duane Woodard, stating that if a craft floats on the surface of the river and does not touch the bed or the banks, then the floaters are not trespassing.But Lutwak’s case argues that floating the waters, which flow through private property, is indeed trespassing. The Lake City outfitter is the defendant in a civil trespass lawsuit filed by Lutwak and the Gateview Ranch, which is seeking an injunction to stop floating on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.But such an injunction would not only affect rafting companies, but other river users as well.Kevin Macreery, a fishing guide with Mountain Angler in Breckenridge said he’s been following the court case.”Anytime new legislation comes up, it’s a concern<anything that limits what we do,” he said.If Luwak succeeds in his attempt to stop floating on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison, Macreery and Mountain Angler would not be directly affected. However, if the case is the beginning of a statewide ruling against floating through public land, it might.Macreery leads fishing trips on the Colorado River.”Where we float on the Colorado, it wouldn’t affect us as much as a lot of other companies in the state,” Macreery said. But for those who float on the Roaring Fork, which is surrounded mostly by private property, it would mean the end of business, Macreery said.”I’ve been guiding for about 20 years now, so I’m pretty sensitive to the situation,” Macreery said of floating through private property. “I try to take real special care. I’m really clear about where the boundaries are between public and private land. I think it’s really important … so you don’t get a little casual and set the anchor on the boat where you shouldn’t, or pull the boat over to get out and wade fish.”Glenn Morse, owner of Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting in Frisco, said the case probably won’t affect his business.”We only run the Colorado, Arkansas, Eagle, Vail and Clear Creek,” Morse said. “So far, those rivers are doing OK because we have government and state agencies working with us.”Morse used the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Kremmling as an example. According to Morse, the BLM there has ensured rafters’ access to the Colorado River in Gore Canyon<not only does the river flow through private property, but one must access the river through it as well.”Right now, it doesn’t look like we’re in any dangers in those rivers yet … it’s possible it could affect us in the future,” he said.And, Morse added, he’d be out of business if he weren’t allowed to float waters surrounded by private property.”It’s a big business: rafting,” Morse said. “It brings a lot of revenue to the state of Colorado and I think the state would take a big hit.”Colorado is the largest destination river rafting state in the nation. Last year alone, commercial river rafting in the state represented an economic impact of more than $125 million.That doesn’t count other river uses such as fishing.”Floating and fishing rivers is a part of our frontier history, quality of life and vital tourism economy,” said Kevin Schneider, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA).Rafting supporters helped persuade the state Senate to kill a bill this session that would have outlawed float fishing and hunting on waterways adjacent to private land without the owner’s permission.The lawsuit seeking to block rafters from floating the Lake Fork remains in court.Though most other states west of the Mississippi River guarantee access to public waterways, a judge has rejected the rafters’ claim that the law guarantees them the right to float rivers.Last week, Cannibal Outdoors was forced to sell its river rafting equipment and other company assets in an attempt to reorganize its business, which also offers jeep tours and hiking in the nearby San Juan mountains.The Associated Press contributed to this story Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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