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Colorado Corner Crossing – Here We Go Again

Photo Credit: JosephL_Pixabay

For some time now you’ve probably been following the 2021 corner crossing case in Wyoming that involves four Missouri hunters who used a ladder to cross from one corner point of public land to another like jumping diagonally from one black square to another of a checkerboard. The hunters were using the onX app when they propped their stepladder over the fence posts and stepped through private airspace from public land to public land.

Those hunters were trying to access additional public land for hunting, but they were eventually charged with criminal trespass by a private landowner who alleged the hunters trespassed onto his private land and violated private airspace. The case went to court, and the hunters won, but now it’s moving to a U.S. District Judge who may ultimately decide the fate of millions of acres of public land access across the nation that are “corner locked.”

This issue is huge in Wyoming, Nevada, and Arizona … and now Colorado is jumping into the discussion. Colorado House Bill 1066 has been introduced which would allow lawful passage between these checker-boarded public land parcels bordering private property.

Technically, it’s possible to cross from one public parcels to the next without touching the private dirt; however, corner-crossers do move through the air space above the privately owned land. Believe it or not, it’s that question of trespassing through private air that is really at the center of this corner-crossing issue. Even though there isn’t a law here in Colorado making it illegal to step over private land to reach public land, property owners have pushed to prosecute corner crossers.

In 1979, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed a similar issue of whether members of the public can trespass on private property while floating on a public river. However, no state appeals court or law has directly addressed whether corner crossing is considered trespassing.  Without clear direction from the Colorado legislature or state courts, corner crossing remains an unresolved issue.

Rep. Brandi Bradley, a Republican from Littleton, is trying to help and has proposed a law that would eliminate the possibility of trespassing charges against corner crossers and prevents landowners from erecting fences within 5 feet of the corner. Her legislation, House Bill 1066, would allow individuals to walk from one corner of public land to another, crossing the corner at the point where the two parcels meet.

Rep Bradley says, “For me the impetus here is to balance property rights with public access and I think that can be done.” She believes her legislation would help property owners more clearly define the parameters of trespassing without having to worry about infringement of airspace above private land. However, until legislation like this is passed, and various cases play out in court, corner crossing will remain a gray area and probably one best avoided if you can.

About Dave Shaffer

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  1. YES public land needs to be accessible instead of a adjoining land owner thinking public land is his exclusive playground.

  2. I think the genie is out of the bottle and this subject needs to be decided in court.

  3. The Good Old Days are over. Now, it’s How Good is your Lawyer. And that’s the truth.

  4. Gary Allen Wright

    Wait a second,,,, are we talking about using common sense here???!!!
    STOP, what next!

  5. All public land should be accessible to the public. “Private airspace”…what an arrogant falsehood. Next they’ll claim the wind blowing from private land to public land makes the public land their private land because “their air” is on the public land. Enough!!! The Government (Fed, State, Local) needs to declare eminent domain in these contested areas and provide a public right-of-way to these isolated public lands…lands supported by citizens’ tax dollars. Private landowners have the right to prevent unauthorized access to their property, but they don’t have a right to block access to public land. When they do-so, it’s clear they perceive this adjoining public land is an extension to their private land…public property for which they pay zero property taxes and for which they have no righteous legal claim. “Private Airspace”… the arrogance!…go eat poop and die!

  6. shootbrownelk

    The ranchers, absentee out of state landowners and outfitters will fight this tooth and nail. Just watch.

  7. If one of their neighboring ranchers owned those parcels they would have easements to allow access, but not if every US citizen owns it.

  8. I agree with ya Bob, public land is just that. Open to the entire public, you can’t keep us out with the threat of lawsuits.

  9. Think if you own the property and own the fences. The 5 foot fence proposal is irrational where multiple private and public corners meet. Majority of people, likely own very little if any property themselves, and are not familiar with large tracts of land that fall under these circumstances. Most people would throw a fit, if so much as toe came across their property. The fact is some land is land locked, life is not always perceived fair. Appreciate the principal that individuals can own private land in this country.

  10. I believe the proposed Colorado bill could have some positive results. A 5 foot space at the corner of PUBLiC land would ease everyone’s mind on right/ wrong. 5 feet is not a lot is space at a corner and infact a lot of places have set back rules for property line barriers due to the question ” who owns the fine line”. This issue needs to be resolved and unfortunately it will cost money and time in court.

  11. This is the modern day version of the 1890’s Johnson County War, when the large landowners / cattle ranchers were trying to keep control of the open range by any means possible, including murder of any homesteaders or small ranchers that dared to cross them. If a hunter intentionally trespasses onto private property they need to be charged. But crossing at a corner from one piece of public to another piece of public is not trespass. This air space violation that caused millions of dollars of damage is non-sense, and some judge needs to stop this court action. Public is public, both sides need to work on a solution that protects the rights of both, again common sense, that isn’t common anymore. Because the landowners in this case have made it a court case, this has caused the government to get involved with proposing a law to allow access that should have been denied. Actions have consequences.

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