This article is taken from the Canoeroots magazine, it makes interesting reading.
Who Owns The River?
The simmering conflict plaguing America’s rivers
DetailsWRITTEN BY Neil Schulman PUBLISHED: May 12, 2015
On July 20th, 2013, Paul Dart, Jr., 48, and a group of family members rented canoes and paddled a stretch of Missouri’s Meramec River. Five hours into their trip, Dart and three others pulled ashore on a gravel bar. Believing Dart and the other men were trespassing, riverfront property owner James Crocker confronted the group with a 9mm pistol. An argument ensued, tempers escalated, and Crocker shot Dart in the face at point-blank range. Dart died en route to the hospital, leaving behind a wife and stepson.
The riverside tragedy was a violent boiling-over of a conflict between river users and property owners that had been simmering for years—and not just on the Meramec.
Due to unclear laws, poor communication and cultural divides, conflicts over who owns waterways and who has the right to paddle them have festered across the nation. If you paddle your canoe outside public lands, you’ve likely experienced access issues in some form: a no-trespassing sign along the water’s edge, a chain across a portage route, or a creek choked with barbed wire. In North America, hundreds of thousands of miles of river flow through private lands. Many of those miles are contested. The Meramec murder was shocking for its violence, but not for the nature of the debate.
Crocker believed he was defending his property rights. "It's my property and I was going to protect it," Crocker told police, according to court records. Last spring Crocker was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder. According to the Missouri Conservation Department, Crocker owned the land extending to the center of the riverbed. However, in Missouri, navigable waterways come with an easement that allows the public to use the river, much like a public road or a sidewalk on private property. This easement includes the right to go ashore below the high-water mark, including the gravel bar where Dart was killed.
These legal nuances vary state by state and can be hard to grasp by paddlers, property owners and even law enforcement. Just look at the evidence.
In New York, a lawsuit is grinding into its fifth year over a canoeist paddling on a creek through private property that connects two parts of a state forest preserve. In North Carolina, landowners stretched a cattle fence topped with razor wire across the North Fork of the Chattooga, a designated National Wild and Scenic River. The right to float the South Fork of the Saluda River in South Carolina continues to work its way through the courts. Paddlers have received trespassing citations on New York’s famed Au Sable River, only to have the charges dropped. Disputes have also led to the arrests of fishermen on both the classic John Day and Trask Rivers in Oregon.
When streams flow through public land, the situation is simple. Unfortunately, most rivers in North America flow through private property during their course, where they can become tangled in a legal netherworld, awaiting clear rulings or the settlement of lawsuits...