Confusion due to high water running late
Despite his 12 years of boating in the Gunnison Valley, Ben Furimsky just found out there is always something new to learn. Ben got a trespassing ticket at the East River access in Crested Butte South on Tuesday, July 15.
The patch of grass near the Crested Butte South wastewater treatment plant has been a convenient boat launch and place for locals to enjoy the river since 2000. However three years ago, the Crested Butte South Metropolitan District, which owns the property, began denying access to boaters after June 15—an action that went relatively unnoticed until this summer.
“Two years ago we were getting so many trespassing complaints from down river and [those landowners] came and asked us that we close it down after June 15,” said district manager Jack Dietrich at a Metro District meeting on Wednesday, July 16. “So we did that and two years ago it was not an issue. The water was low and everybody was fine with it. And it was the same last year.”
For the first two years the restriction was in place, the level of the East River was consistently at or below the 25-year average flow for the river throughout the runoff season. By June 15 in both years, flows were much lower than the 450 to 500 cubic feet per second needed for the average boater to run the river without hitting ground. This year the river maintained the higher level into July.
Dietrich said that with the high water, he waited until July 3 to put up the sign, posted near a tree at the launch site, informing people of the restrictions. But three days later there were so many people parked in front of the neighboring wastewater treatment plant that an employee couldn’t get in.
“We are not a park—we’re a water and sanitation district. It’s a wastewater treatment plant. People have called me saying it’s their right to launch there for some reason, that it’s their right to trespass on our property, and we don’t feel that’s the case,” said Dietrich.
For Furimsky and some other boaters that attended the district meeting, the issue was with the district’s assertion that it has the authority to deny access to property owned by the Metro District, which is comprised of all Crested Butte South homeowners.
To that, Dietrich replied, “The decision to shut down the access after June 15 was voted on by the district board and they represent the people [of the district].”
Also at issue is whether or not it is fair to close the area only to boaters, but Dietrich said that if it came to choosing between allowing everyone at any time or restricting access to everyone, the district would be likely to choose the latter.
Colorado state law gives anyone the right to boat on the surface of the water of rivers in the state by declaring public ownership of “the water of every natural stream.” But a separate law, passed in 1977, says that a private property’s boundaries stretch to the “banks and beds” of a river and anyone coming into contact with either is trespassing.
The headwaters of the East River flow from public land, but are then surrounded almost entirely by private property after passing the southeastern edge of Crested Butte Mountain. The private land continues until the river enters the Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery between Crested Butte South and Almont. After the hatchery, the river again passes through private property to its end.
“Every river in this valley goes through some private water,” said Furimsky. “Every major river, even smaller than the East, is floated frequently. In fact one, the Taylor [River], which has average flows that are less than the East’s, is the most floated river [in the valley].”
But for Dan Ewert, who leases a section of private water for Caddis Club members, and Milton Graves, who was representing the interests of The Reserve, a high-dollar riverfront development, trespassing boaters do more than spook the fish. They jeopardize an investment and frustrate a paying clientele.