River Users Should Know Their Rights

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NationalRivers
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Joined: Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:31 pm

River Users Should Know Their Rights

Post by NationalRivers » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:02 pm

River users should know their rights

Canoeists, kayakers, rafters, fishermen, and other river users should know their rights to use rivers in all fifty states, under federal law. Many lawyers and state government officials claim that public rights on rivers have to be decided by state legislatures or state supreme courts. However, under the Commerce Clause and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law is the supreme law of the land, and all the states are bound thereby. The most recent federal court decision on the subject is Atlanta School of Kayaking v. Douglasville County (981 F.Supp. 1469, N.D.Ga.1997). Citing previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it confirms that public rights on small, shallow rivers that are navigable in kayaks are constitutional rights, and are a matter of federal law, not state law. The decision is now 17 years old, yet it has not been contradicted by any federal or state court.

River users who want to help spread the word about these rights can download a new free one-page poster or handout, Public Rights on Rivers in Every State, at nationalrivers.org, and post it on bulletin boards in coffee houses, college campuses, community centers, outdoor equipment stores, and other public places.

The poster-handout is backed up by the new short book, Public Rights on Rivers in Every State and through Federal Lands, which explains the subject in 72 concise pages, with over 200 footnotes citing federal statutes and court decisions. River users can get an inexpensive batch of 5, 10, or 20 copies for holiday gift giving. Sample pages are available at nationalrivers.org.

People who doubt the message of the book can attempt to find federal law that contradicts it, although they will find that there is no such federal law or court decision. Because of the financial and political stakes involved, numerous lawyers and state government officials will continue to claim that public rights on rivers in their state are restricted to only certain large rivers, but such claims are politics, not law. From the time the states ratified the Constitution in 1788, to today, federal law has confirmed that rivers navigable in canoes and similar craft must remain “forever free” to public use, including walking along the beds and banks of rivers through private land while boating or fishing.
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Regarding rivers through federal lands such as the Grand Canyon and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the new book explains why the present noncommercial permit situation on these rivers is unlawful, and how river users can work through local offices of their Congressmen to obtain the permits to which they are lawfully entitled. People who pay to enter the Park Service lottery for Grand Canyon permits year after year, without contacting their Congressman’s local office, are literally funding and supporting the continuation of the present wrongful situation. Rather than persistently applying to the lottery, it would be better for people to persistently work through a constituent caseworker at their Congressman’s local office. Nobody should be paying to enter the lottery, year after year, without also working with their Congressman’s office, to obtain space for their own trip and to help get the present situation corrected.

Fish
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Joined: Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:15 am
Location: Wherever there's water

Re: River Users Should Know Their Rights

Post by Fish » Mon Jan 26, 2015 2:40 pm

Two rules to live by: 1) the law is what a judge interprets it to be, and 2) you may be right, but you can't outrun a bullet. Applying those two rules of thumb, trying to press your paddler access rights at the wrong time with the wrong person can be a bad idea. I always advise picking your battles carefully. If in doubt at all, be nice and accommodating to the person/people at the river who tell you you can't be there, and then when you get back in town, go find a lawyer, do your legal homework, and assert your legal rights! But altercations, arguments, or just general rudeness from paddlers directed at landowners on the river almost never makes things better, even if the law really is in your favor (which is very debatable at the state level in many places!).

- Fish

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