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FAQs about federal law regarding public ownership, use, and conservation of rivers
Why River Rights? »
NOR is the organization that focuses on achieving public-trust ownership of rivers, conserving rivers through public-trust ownership, and ensuring the public's legal rights to enjoy rivers
The NOR Story
Why NOR Exists
NOR is here to STOP and REVERSE the major loss of your public rights on rivers since the 1970s. Public rights are now being unlawfully denied on thousands of miles of rivers around the US. NOR has produced resources (handouts, posters, and a book) that deal effectively with this huge problem, by educating the public and government officials about existing law. NOR builds a bridge from the chambers of the U.S Supreme Court to the rivers in your state, explaining how the existing law applies today.
In the 1970s, there were no organizations dealing effectively with river law in regards to access and conservation. Yet, many river issues were popping up around the U.S. In the late 1970s, the Colorado Supreme Court decided that running rivers was not covered by the state constitution. This gave landowners the idea that river users were trespassing. Simultaneously, the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon came out with a plan saying that 90% of the use was to be commercial raft trips, and the non-commercial use would be limited by a lottery. Several river enthusiasts were concerned about how rivers were becoming private, and becoming literally closed off to the public.
A group of five river enthusiasts finally decided they were going to stand up for the public rights they believed in by starting an organization. In determining a name, they wanted to make sure it included the East to West coast, river access, and all types of river craft. They wanted to have a name that was all inclusive, and at the time there was no overall name for river activities. It seemed like “river sports” was a term that could include the various river activities, which is why in 1978 the organization’s first name was the “National Organization for River Sports” or “NORS.”
The next task was to determine the organization’s headquarters. At the time, the Olympic offices were coming to Colorado Springs. Lower costs of operation, other non-profit organizations that were sprouting up, a good convention town, and a location near the Arkansas River all seemed like good reasons to locate NORS in Colorado Springs. Below was the original NORS bumper sticker.
Growing and Learning
NORS began operations by signing up members and mailing Currents magazine. The articles in the early issues discussed where you could go
kayaking, rafting, and canoeing, and how to safely use rivers. At first, Currents was about anything and everything that dealt with rivers, but as the years went by, it was apparent that the river issues were not being solved. NORS staff would ask attorneys to write a book about river law so the issues could be clarified. However, the lawyers either didn’t know what the law really said, or they seemed to give incorrect information and say the opposite of what the NORS staff had researched. There was chaos in the river law world.
NORS was able to get members and had good response rates. The organization was on the right track, but legally there was a dark and confusing picture that the NOR staff had a hunch was actually favorable to river recreation. In the early 80s, Eric Leaper, NORS Executive Director, did his first expert witness cases. He started working with attorneys on lawsuits involving rivers, and he realized that the river rights battle is more a matter of writing, educating, and discussing, than it is litigating, especially when the law is already on your side! Yet, most people weren’t aware that this was how things needed to be resolved, so there was a great need to spread the word. These lessons being reconfirmed over the course of years was the catalyst for the book Eric and the NORS staff have been writing for several years.
Currents was published until 1995, when the internet came along, and basic river information became free. NORS gradually realized that it should focus on river rights and river law, and not appeal to just paddlers, but to include all river users. NORS did not need to discuss river basics that other organizations were covering, but rather needed to focus on the legal issues by educating the public instead of litigating. This was the area that needed the organization’s full attention.
Why NORS Changed to NOR
In the 1970s, it seemed like “river sports” would become a household term. By the 2000’s, the name had not caught on. Also, there are many types of ways people recreate on rivers that aren’t necessarily sports. The organization wanted to not just limit itself to sports on rivers, but all kinds of recreational uses on them. Therefore, in 2012 “sports” was deleted from the name, and the organization became the “National Organization for Rivers” or “NOR.” NOR decided to have the website redone in the summer of 2013, as well as release the long awaited book, Public RIghts on Rivers.
The old NOR website was transformed into the updated version in August, 2013.
Until the late 1970s, river access was much less of an issue. Since then, river access issues have flared up and remain a huge problem. These river law and access issues don’t get decided quickly because there are 50 state governments, a federal government, and various organizations in addition. Hence these issues can go undecided for decades.
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The hope for the future of NOR is similar to how cases are handled before they go to court. We want to have discussions, show the evidence, and convince all sides that the NOR view is correct. Since court decisions have already been made in favor of the public, we want to allow the facts to speak for themselves. In the end, the hope is that you will be able to recreate on rivers without difficulty because rivers have always been, and may they always be, public.