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Open safe public access points to rivers and lakes

Gateway Christian

Children wait for a crack at the river at a safe access point created by the Coal River Group. Photo courtesy The Coal River Group.

In fall 2012, Sutton mayor J.L. Carpenter hoped to increase paddling, swimming, and other physical activity in the Elk River flowing past his town. He contacted  the state Department of Natural Resources and pointed out the fact that town citizens who did not own riverfront property had no access to the river. He asked for their help.

The DNR is tasked, by state law, with making sure citizens have public access to navigable streams since, by federal law, those banks are public property. But the Sutton area does not yet have a river group that makes it their business to create access points.

After a local landowner agreed to allow boaters to cross his land, Sutton now has one public access point along the river, with an informational kiosk. Carpenter dreams of the time when there is a series of access points linked with mileage signs like the ones on the Coal and Cheat Rivers. “We’ll get there,” he said.


Does your community need public access to its rivers? These resources can help you.


  • Read about the way Friends of the Cheat created public access points on the river:
  • What is the law related to public access? Read “Public Ownership of the rivers in West Virginia,” by Abby Chapple, Friends of the Cacapon River.  “Under the Equal Footing Doctrine, the beds and banks of these rivers and streams are a strip of public land, to be conserved for public benefit. Boaters in all kinds of boats are free to use this water and the immediate adjacent land…”
  • The National Organizations for Rivers (NORS), Rivers Law Project: . “The US supreme Court has held that the bed and banks under all rivers, lakes and streams that are navigable, for title purposes, are owned by the states, held in trust for the public. Title in this context means ownership. This public-trust ownership extends up to the ordinary high water line encompassing what is commonly referred to as the submerged and submersible land.” according to NORS.
  • The law: In West Virginia, the Public Land Corporation, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, is vested by W.Va. Code,SS20-1a-1 to ensure public access to West Virginia’s navigable rivers. DNR can build a river access point at state expense if the owner will enter into a long-term contract guaranteeing use of the land as river access.  Call the Department of Natural Resources FIND NAME OF OFFICE  304-558-2771. The land owner must write a letter to the Assistant Chief of Fisheries, 324 4th Avenue, South Charleston, WV 25303, requesting a longterm partnership to develop a boat access point, saying the owner will operate and maintain it, asking for an appointment to talk about it.
  • Here is a list of river access points in West Virginia from the Department of Natural Resources:
  • See and read about the many access points on the Coal River Water Trail at



Related Try This pages: Get designated an official water trail, Create a watershed association, get people out paddling and rowing, Go fishing


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