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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns have a public right to legally access and recreate on a stretch of the Weber River, says a Friday ruling by Judge Keith Kelly of Utah’s 3rd District Court, according to a press release from the Utah Stream Access Coalition.
The ruling is following a lawsuit filed by the USAC which sought to establish navigability and public ownership of the beds on a one-mile stretch of the Weber River. Kelly instructed the landowner defendants to remove any “no trespassing” signs that restrict use of the streambed, and prohibited them from continuing to interfere with the public’s right to use this section of river and its beds for recreation purposes. Other sections of the river, if on private property, remains private and can only be reached by a public access point.
“This is a win for all Utahns,” said USAC president Kris Olson. “We’re grateful that the court looked to history to fairly balance public recreational rights with private property rights. The river is useful to the public today, just as it was a century and a half ago, and the public has the right to access and use that resource.”
The trial lasted five days, during which USAC experts presented “mountains of evidence” of historical commercial use of the river, according to the press release. In the eventual 26-page decision, the court acknowledged that the river served several purposes in statehood era based on floating logs downstream, including construction of railroads, prop timbers for Park City mines, saw timbers and cord wood. Kelly wrote that these drives played a “significant role” in these services, the USAC said.
All rivers and streams in Utah were recognized as open to public use until 2010, when the state Legislature passed a law eliminating this right for non-navigable streams on private property. The coalition is separately challenging the constitutionality of the legislative give-away of these public rights, in a case scheduled for trial in late August 2015, the USAC said in their press release.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the ruling applied specifically to a one-mile stretch of the Weber River.
Contributing: Nicole Vowell