Published: March 28, 2024 By

I’m currently serving as a legislative research intern for the Capstone Group, a Denver-based lobbying firm. The Capstone Group has been involved with some of the most influential policies and legislation enacted within Colorado. In my role, I am responsible for attending committee hearings and taking detailed notes. Once finalized, my notes are sent to clients and Capstone employees to keep them up to date on legislative happenings that are crucial to their lobbying pursuits. I’ve learned quite a bit about the Colorado legislative process and the issues facing Coloradans statewide. Throughout the semester, I look forward to updating the Colorado Political Science Review audience with the latest relevant and interesting bills moving through the Capitol.

On January 29th, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee met to hear SB24-058, Landowner Liability Recreational Use Warning Signs. In Colorado, many natural resources including 14ers and fishing holes are on privately owned land - making public access a complicated matter.  The legislation encourages landowners to install a sign explaining known dangers on their property at the primary access point or beginning of the trailhead. The signage clarifies the access points and states that those who do not stay within the trail are considered trespassers. By informing recreationists of the dangers on the property, they are engaging at their own risk, and landowners are protected from potential lawsuits.

This issue came to the forefront of Coloradans’ attention in 2008 after a very serious bicycle injury at the Air Force Academy. That incident in 2008 resulted in a lawsuit in 2011 which lasted for over a decade and included five trips to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit increased landowners’ concerns surrounding liabilities for injuries on their property and had a chilling effect on individuals statewide. To avoid a lawsuit, some landowners have designated their property as an area in which trespassing is not prohibited. In doing so, certain 14ers and other natural resources have been made inaccessible to the public.

The Committee heard from thirteen witnesses, with one taking a neutral stance while the remaining twelve witnesses testified in support of the bill. Supporters of the legislation shared that their sentiment resonates with thousands of individuals in a variety of communities across Colorado. The witnesses in support of this legislation emphasized that the bill protects both landowners and outdoor recreationists by providing very specific language on a sign posted on the primary access point. This language assists landowners as it directly acknowledges known dangers present on their land and gives them the authority to control when and where recreational activities take place on their land. Individuals recreating on their property are also informed of said dangers through the signage language established under this legislation.

Some supporters stressed the financial concerns they have regarding the potential limitation of outdoor recreation on privately owned land. For instance, several supporters stated that activities like trail running, and climbing are no longer considered fringe sports and therefore require individuals’ access to land. Lloyd Athearn, Executive Director of Colorado’s 14ers Initiative explained how the public, especially Colorado’s alpine activity enthusiasts crave entry to the natural resources available on privately owned land. Echoing his point, John Lacroix of the Human Potential Running Series stressed how without admittance to these natural resources, outdoor recreational activities and races will cease to exist. It is incredibly difficult to plan outdoor recreational activities spanning tens of miles without entry into these privately owned spaces. Ultimately, if the land is inaccessible, supporters of the legislation fear the extinction of outdoor events, tourism decline in mountain communities, and an overall decrease in Coloradans’ ability to explore and enjoy their state’s natural resources. Overall, supporters claimed this legislation reduces the burden on landowners while providing Coloradans with access to natural resources.

The bill, SB24-058 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 5-0 and was introduced in the House on February 5th, 2024. This legislation is integral to providing public access to natural resources in Colorado. However, the implications of an injury or accident are definitely concerning to property owners. In theory, this bill addresses those concerns through detailed signage and Coloradans can once again enjoy the land.