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.