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Old 06-01-2004   #1
Golden, Colorado
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 140
Waterway rights question

Okay, I was rafting the Yampa R. below Craig this weekend. I had rowed 30+ miles, it was past sunset and still a couple miles to go before my takeout. I had passed a couple public spots because groups behind me were portaging a diversion damn and I didn't want them running any further in the dark than needed and though I could make it out. I soon was surrounded by private land but wanted to get off the river before it was full on dark since it didn't look like I could make the take out before dark. I came across an good sized island in the river and pulled in to set up a camp thinking this is public since it is between the high water marks of the banks. Soon after a lady walked about 1/4 mile to yell out that I was trespassing and had to go. I ended up leaving and rafting in the dark to avoid shotguns or police but I really thought I was legit but wasn't dead sure so I didn't argue the point too much. I would normally not try to camp in a spot like that but I was abit screwed. Anyway, any experts out there know if islands public or private? If I'm wrong I want to know so I don't repeat the mistake. Thanks.

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Old 06-01-2004   #2
peterB's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 567
In Colorado you can not stand on the rocks in the bottom of the river because landowners have rights to the middle of the river if they do not own both banks. In California I believe it is public to the high water mark. i am sure that there are people who know more but Colorado has been one on the strictest states for access fights and it has not been pretty. You can even be charged with tresspassing if you are stuck on a rock.

friend of the fork, knife, and spoon
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Old 06-01-2004   #3
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 25
It has been a while since i looked into it - but as I remember the bed and banks are considered private property while the water itself is owned by the state and held in trust for public use - what that means is that you can float on and otherwise use the water but cannot touch the bed or banks - this can result in a silly circumstance where you could technically be trespassing by bumping rocks in the river but I think it would be highly unlikely that such a minimal trespass would be prosecuted - portaging obsticles presents a problem but I would guess that it might be a defense to trespass however camping on an island would likely be considered a fairly clear trespass - I think this interpretation of the navigation laws in CO is based on an Attorney General's opinion which is not law but I have heard that most courts follow it anyway -
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Old 06-01-2004   #4
Have paddled a Quest
Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1984
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 102

The applicable sections of the Colorado Revised Statutes are:

CRS § 18-4-504 which defines third degree criminal tresspass: "(1) A person commits the crime of third degree criminal trespass if such person unlawfully enters or remains in or upon premises of another."

and CRS § 18-4-504.5 which defines "premises" to include "stream banks and beds of any nonnavigable fresh water streams flowing through such real property"

The question of what is navigable and whether or not the public has the right to float through private land (without touching banks and beds) is not clearly defined in state law. However, most people are operating under the opinion of Attorney General Duane Woodard in 1983:

"(t)he intent, purpose, and effect of section 18-4-504.5 is to protect adjoining property owners from trespasses to the banks and beds of streams and exempt those who float upon the state's waterways from criminal trespass liability. Since the statute speaks only to criminal trespass, it does not address the question of civil remedies and therefore cannot be viewed as providing authority for private owners of stream banks and beds to prevent such use of the water."

To read the Colorado Revised Statues, go to: and click on "CO Revised Statutes"

For a good summary memo about the situation (as of June 1999), go to: and search for:

memorandum trespass "june 8, 1999"
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Old 06-01-2004   #5
Golden, Colorado
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 140
Thanks for info. Much appreciated, for sure.

At least I won't repeat the mistake again...
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