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Before statehood, Utahns fished in streams across private land. Does that mean they can today?

Trib photo Provo River.jpg
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
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A section of the Provo River near Victory Ranch in Woodland Valley in 2021. This stretch of this blue-ribbon trout stream is the subject of a case pending before the Utah Supreme Court, which is considering whether Utahns have a constitutional right to walk in streams across private land to fish and recreate.

Decision in Provo River case could impact 2,700 miles of fishable rivers, 42% of the total in Utah.

For decades prior to Utah statehood, Latter-day Saint pioneers routinely walked, floated and fished in streams across private lands.

The practice was so common that there were no trespass laws on the books at the time and no one gave it a second thought, attorney Michelle Quist told the Utah Supreme Court Monday.

The high court is now weighing the pivotal question of whether 19th century Utahns’ unfettered access to streambeds established an “easement,” grounded in the Utah Constitution, across private land that persists to the present day.

The Utah Stream Access Coalition, represented by Quist, is seeking to overturn Utah’s restrictive stream access laws, rooting its case almost entirely in the understanding of Mormon pioneers that they could freely walk and float streams prior to 1896.

The case centers on a 23-mile stretch of the Provo River, where it winds through bucolic and mostly private Woodland Valley between the Uinta Mountains and Jordanelle Reservoir in Wasatch County.

Read the full report here.