In 2019, a mountain biker in Colorado was seriously injured on a washed-out trail. The danger wasn’t marked, and the land was privately owned by the Air Force Academy. Because the land was open for public use, the Air Force Academy was held liable, and the biker was awarded $7.3 million.
Since then, landowners in Colorado have become much more reluctant to allow people on their property. Five 14,000-foot peaks in the Rocky Mountains have been closed as their access points are all on private land. The situation is distressing to hikers and others who want to enjoy the spaces. Landowners want the problem fixed, as some have been forced to donate their land after insurance companies raised their premiums.
A coalition of more than 40 outdoors organizations has been pulling together bipartisan help to get back on the land. They believe there should be more onus on the visitors’ common sense. We always say that if you go out into the wild, you must respect that it’s wild.
“Landowners are currently expected to individually sign each known hazard at the point of the hazard,” said Anneliese Steel, chair of the coalition. “This leads to ridiculously burdensome compliance, such as posting two metal signs warning of a wasp nest by the City of Boulder. Instead, landowners would only need to post our sign language at the main entry point or trailhead… This also protects landowners who know they have hazards such as steep cliffs, loose rocks, streams etc., on their property. Our goal is to provide an additional layer of liability coverage for almost all known natural hazards, as well as agricultural and mining activities, structures and remnants.”
Republican Sen. Mark Baisley is one of the sponsors of the new legislation. He said, “It has been difficult to live up to our moniker as the Rocky Mountain State over the past couple of years with some of our 14,000-foot peaks being off limits to the public. The solution seems simple: exempt private landowners from liability when they permit free access across their property… By communicating directly to the hikers with signage, we will make it clear that the risk lies with them.”
The new required signs would be at least eight by 10 inches large. They warn that hazards are present and that injury or death can occur on the land. Under the new laws, the landowners could also list what activities they allowed on their property that would protect them from legal troubles.