BHA continues the fight for access to public water in the Centennial State
DENVER, Colo. – As the Colorado Supreme Court considers the Hill vs. Warsewaa lawsuit that has the potential to dramatically change public access to state waters, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers continues to fight for the interests of public land hunters, fishermen and others who depend on our shared lands and waters in Centennial State.
The proceedings now unfolding in the state supreme court are the latest step in plaintiff Roger Hill’s battle for legitimate access to his favorite fishing spot in a case that, by extension, could clarify the public’s right to access the state waterways.
BHA and two of its partners, the American Whitewater and the Colorado River Outfitters Association, have filed an amicus brief in the case. The brief argues that without the Hill case, Colorado will not be able to do what other western states have already done: really engage with the issue of navigability and open and maintain access opportunities to the public.
Don Holmstrom, a BHA member from Colorado, has been coordinating the chapter’s response to this important publicly accessible case and assists with court proceedings.
“BHA has taken steps to support Hill’s legal fight since the beginning of the litigation,” Holmstrom said. “A large part of Colorado’s outdoor economy depends on recreation related to public waters. Expanding access creates significant economic opportunities. Improved access to public water is also one of the best outdoor pathways for communities where recreational opportunities have historically been a challenge.”
Hill, a resident of Salida, Colo., has fished the Arkansas River in southern Colorado for decades.
“Defendant Roger Hill, an 81-year-old fly fisherman, has an actual, specific, and particular dispute with defendants Warsewa and Joseph (the ‘individual defendants’),” the complaint read. “Hill would like to return to his favorite fishing spot on the Arkansas River (the ‘River’) without risking violence, civil suit or arrest. But the Individual Defendants, who undisputedly own the land adjacent to the river, assaulted Hill with baseball-sized rocks and threatened to prosecute him for trespassing. The Individual Defendants even shot Hill’s friend who was fishing as he forded the disputed riverbed. As a result, Hill cannot safely return to the river to fish without first clarifying his rights and the rights of individual Defendants.”
To date, the State of Colorado has not affirmed the public’s right of access to the state’s waterways. Instead, the state has sided with private landowners who have taken extreme measures to block access from rivers and streams, including “deathtrap” metal obstacles, barbed wire, and other aggressive measures that place reenactors in dangerous situations. This “status quo” fails to recognize the importance of navigability and access to the tens of thousands of people who each year access Colorado’s rivers to fish, raft, or simply enjoy the natural beauty.
“American Whitewater advocates for the right and privilege of the public to float on the rivers that flow through public and private lands across the country,” said Hattie Johnson, American Whitewater’s director of stewardship in the Southern Rocky Mountains. “Mr. Hill’s case before the State Supreme Court provides an important opportunity for public river users to have a say in clarifying their rights to use our state’s incredible rivers.”
As this case continues, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is committed to fighting for public access and the rights of hunters, fishermen, floaters, and recreationists across the country. For more information on the BHA’s position on Hill vs. Warsewaread the full writing.
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