Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls: The Intrepid, Pioneering, Whitewater Paddler's Right to Stop on Private Land
The river roars from the thunder of waterfalls and swift currents. Its water runs wild between large boulders and steep banks. Kayaks and canoes are designed to navigate whitewater rapids that many people believe are unnavigable. Conflicts often arise between private property owners and the recreating public on some of the best whitewater in America. Private property owners along rivers, creeks, and streams have shot at paddlers for entering their private property. Property owners have obstructed navigation, stringing artificial strainers made of barbed wire across creeks and streams.
The sport of running wild water rapids and waterfalls in a kayak or canoe pushes to the limits both paddlers’ sporting skill and the property rights of landowners along the streams upon which paddlers navigate. This Article defines navigability and analyzes whether large waterfalls and rapids are navigable under the legal definitions historically applied by the United States Supreme Court and state courts. Additionally, this Article determines paddlers’ permissible incidental or necessary contact with property owners’ land when paddlers get out of their kayaks or canoes to safely scout or portage waterfalls or rapids, swim to safety, or rescue themselves or fellow paddlers while standing on private land.