Public has right to recreate on Upper Weber River, according to officials
In a battle dating to 2010, Utah courts have gone back and forth over who has access to a one-mile stretch of the Weber River near Oakley.
The last ruling in the case, in November 2017, declared that stretch navigable, which meant anglers and others could use it as long as they accessed it through a public access point. But it left open the issue of public access for the rest of the 39 miles of the Upper Weber River between Holiday Park and Echo.
Last Thursday, representatives from state and county agencies held a public meeting in Coalville to describe exactly how they’re planning to enforce the ruling and what it means for members of the public who want to recreate on stretches of the river that go through private lands.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said she and the others tasked with enforcing the law on the river — the State Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Sheriff’s Office — are interpreting the case to apply from Holiday Park to the Echo Reservoir, even though the ruling only covered the one-mile stretch in question.
Olson said she and the other presenters went out on the river to decide how they would enforce the law.
“You cannot escape the logical conclusion that whole section is navigable,” Olson said.
She summed up the group’s position as follows: The public has the right to access the surface and bed of the Weber River to engage in water-based recreation activities between the confluence of the Middle and Main forks of the Weber River near Holiday Park and the Echo Reservoir.
Access is limited to the riverbed below the permanent vegetative line. The public may not trespass on private property above the permanent vegetative line without landowner permission, except to portage around obstacles.
Olson said the event was “standing-room only,” with about 75 or 80 attendees representing both public access and private land rights perspectives. The conversations were productive and cordial, with anglers expressing their dedication to the land through stewardship and landowners describing how they have felt taken advantage of at times, with litter spread around and people cutting their fences or driving on parts of their property.
“Private property owners were expressing, please respect our property and don’t leave things worse than you found them,” Olson said.
Some from the angling community told stories of cleaning up stretches of the river.
Olson said her department will always enforce trespassing laws, and it doesn’t matter how a confrontation starts, if it rises to the level of law-breaking, participants should call the Sheriff’s Office.
The waterway may only be entered or exited from a public right of way, like at Holiday Park, or wherever a public road crosses the river. In those cases, where there is a bridge over the road, there is a public easement stretching 60 feet from the road’s centerline.
Olson said the meeting went “really well.”
“When you get a meeting — on a weeknight in the summer — that well attended, it was a really good meeting,” she said.
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