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Summit County Attorney Weighs In On Legality Of Recreationalists Accessing Weber River

Summit County

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson says she was pleased with the attendance at a meeting last week that discussed the legal aspects of stream access on the Weber River.

She told KPCW there have been some conflicts because of confusion, on the part of landowners along the river, and recreationists trying to get to the Weber. Olson had details on a crucial 2017 Utah Supreme Court decision.

Olson told us the meeting was called at the urging of County Council Members Chris Robinson. She said the state Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Stream Access Coalition also want to get the information out.

The Coalition’s lawsuit against three South Summit landowners on the river went to the Utah Supreme Court. As Olson noted, the court found that the public could access the Weber on a 40-mile stretch, since it was deemed as navigable.

“So, when we think of navigability, we think about what we might be able to get an inflatable kayak to go down. But, navigability for purposes of water law has more to do with what was, at the time of statehood, used as a highway of commerce. In the Supreme Court case, Utah Stream Access Coalition vs. Orange St development, the one that came down in late 2017, the lower court had made factual findings that the Weber River was used for commercial purposes from the point of Highland Park down to Echo.”

Olson said that after the court decision, she took a field trip up the river with the sheriff and state officials, and they agreed that the river becomes navigable at Highland Park, at the confluence of the Middle Fork, Dry Fork and Gardner Fork.

Olson said the court decision only applies to the Weber, but a similar case about the Provo River is winding its way through the court system and could have broader implications in later years.

She talked about where recreationists can find access points to the stream.

“There are public roads that intersect the Weber River at different places. This is dependent on which section you're at, but I believe in the county if it's in the unincorporated County then the public easement is 60 feet from center line of a public road. Those are certainly public access points also usually public trailheads are marked. State parks, and then there some places along there where it's posted that it's private property, but that the public is welcome to access it if they act in a courteous and respectful manner.”

If you enter the Weber at a particular access point, it is wise to go back at the same spot—unless you can find another clear egress point.

Users are advised to stay off the vegetated banks on either side of the river, which are deemed private—though one exception can be allowed if you encounter an obstacle in the river.

“If there's an obstruction in the stream—suppose you're wading upstream and you come across a tree that's a sweeper in the middle of the stream or some other obstruction you can get up on the riverbank. Get around the obstruction but you need to do so in the least intrusive manner and get right back into the stream bed.”

At last week’s meeting, there were some references made to what’s called the walk-in access program.

“It's my understanding that certain private property owners allow public access but they want the members of the public to sign in. So that they know who and how many people are accessing across their property. They're wanting it to be walking so that people aren't driving their vehicles across the private property. There was some discussion at the meeting asking people to please respect that and if you're at a walk-in private property access point, don't drive your car down to the riverbank.”

Olson said that most landowners will allow access to the stream, but they want users to behave courteously and be good stewards of the land.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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