Judge Keith Kelly made the right decision when he ruled in favor of granting public access to a popular fishing and canoeing section of the Weber River above Rockport Reservoir.
Kelly’s ruling came after a five-day trial in Utah’s 3rd District Court over a lawsuit filed by the Utah Stream Access Coalition after the Legislature passed a 2010 measure that allowed private land owners along “non-navigable” sections of rivers to block public land access.
The court decision recognized the Weber River was used for commerce at the time of statehood, with logs floated downstream for the construction of mines and railroads. This made the 2010 decision to limit access unlawful.
This was basically an historical loophole that predated the 2010 measure that allowed for the court’s ruling. Regardless, of the legal semantics we have always supported public access to public waterways.
The court ruling instructs landowner defendants “to remove any no trespassing signs that restrict use of the streambed, and prohibits them from continuing to interfere with the public’s rights to use the river and its beds for lawful recreational purposes.”
But with access comes responsibility.
Landowners say they were forced to seek a legislative remedy because recreational users were trashing their property. We understand their grievances. However, banning access was not the answer. Recreational users need to be more responsible in their conduct. And landowners should contact local law enforcement to enforce existing litter laws when things get out of hand.
We also hope that conservation organizations, and even the coalition that brought the suit, help organize cleanup efforts when needed. This is a common practice along public trails, and recreational locations all over the country.
The court decision will benefit birdwatchers, river runners and tubers, fisherman and hikers. We hope these users can come together and help police this beautiful stretch of the river, and nearby private property, they now are entitled to use.