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Bill in Virginia Senate would clarify paddlers' access to whitewater
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Avid kayaker Mike Kalanick knows that Western Virginia has a number of great whitewater creeks.
But when the Charlottesville engineer puts his boat on his car and heads out to paddle he rarely comes this way.
“I usually go to Maryland or West Virginia,” Kalanick said.
He travels out of state in part because of access concerns on some of those appealing Western Virginia waters, such as Johns Creek in Craig County.
“That’s sort of the poster child” for access problems, Kalanick said of Johns Creek, which some whitewater aficionados have deemed among the East’s greatest creeks, but where trespassing concerns have kept kayakers at bay.
On Johns Creek, creekside landowners claimed that they control access to the sections that run through their property, and the court agreed.
But some paddlers believe that the water itself on Johns Creek and similar smaller streams is a public resource, so they should be allowed to paddle through as long as they don’t step onto private land.
A bill under consideration in the General Assembly seeks to clarify the picture.
As recently amended, Senate Bill 737 would allow paddlers to travel by non-motorized boats for the purpose of recreation on streams that might not technically categorized as navigable, but which are robust enough to allow for floating.
The proposal further clarifies such waters by saying the rule section “shall apply only to rivers, streams, or creeks of the second order or larger. Streams of the second order are defined as those formed by the confluence of two streams of the first order. Streams of the first order are those indicated by the device of a solid blue line on United States Geological Survey topographic quadrant maps at a scale of 1:24,000.”
In short, this wouldn’t apply to small drainage ditches.
Longtime paddler Travis Graham, an attorney who lives in Montvale, said the proposal’s impact would be small.
“All the streams that people want to go down in a boat, people have been going down them for years,” he said.
The change, agreed paddler and attorney Pete Katt, would simply provide clarity for both paddlers and landowners.
“Landowners have some legitimate rights, but they don’t know what they are,” said Katt, who lives in Franklin County. “Paddlers have rights, too.”
Currently, Katt said, stream access tends to be decided on a county-by-county basis, with decisions based on which judge is sitting on the bench.
“Trying to have judges decide this gets expensive,” Katt said.
Last week the bill, which was submitted by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, reported out of the Senate committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on a narrow 8 to 7 vote.
Supporters of the proposal hope that small victory provides momentum as the bill heads to the Senate floor in the next day or two.
Here are a couple of other outdoors-related bills under consideration:
Senate Bill 1053
Phased in regulations requiring Virginia boaters to complete boater education courses have kept boating safety classes full in recent years.
A proposed Senate bill may slightly ease the crowding by offering an exemption to the requirement.
Submitted by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, Senate Bill 1053 would include individuals who earned the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer qualification among those who don’t have to complete a boating education course in order to meet the mandated requirements.
The Navy’s Surface Warfare qualification is to ship drivers what wings are to pilots. So it’s fair to say a individual who earns the SWO pin to drive a 500-foot warship probably doesn’t need to take 10 hours of boater education to learn how to safely operate his 17-foot-long Bass Tracker.
At least, as a proud possessor of those Navy-issued “water wings” — and as someone who has been putting off taking a boater education course — that’s my take.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate and is now in the House.
House Bill 1929
House Bill 1929 would broaden existing regulations to allow a town’s top law enforcement officer to work with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to deal with deer when it is found that the animals are creating a traffic hazard in the jurisdiction.
If a DGIF investigation confirms that deer are creating traffic problems, the locality could gain authorization to kill the deer.
This is hardly a ground-breaking proposal, but it shows that the House, which unanimously passed the bill, understands that Virginia benefits from having as many tools as possible at hand when dealing with booming populations of certain wildlife.
That fact should give hope to supporters of another such tool — legalizing hunting on Sunday.
The Sunday hunting ban won’t be eased this year, but eventually will be as more lawmakers gain a better understanding of the issue.
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