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Public Access to Navigable Streams

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Access must usually be obtained through the use of public property. The typical access may be from the right of way of a public road that crosses the stream, through a publicly owned boat launch area, or from some other public land (a park, for example) adjacent to the stream. There is no general right to cross private property to get to a navigable stream. There are a number of privately owned parks or campgrounds where members of the public may have access to a navigable stream by paying a small fee to the landowner. If the private landowner forbids access, an attempt to use the private land would be a trespass.

State law prohibits parking on a highway bridge and generally forbids (with certain exceptions) parking in the main traveled part of a highway.

Within a public road’s right of way, private fencing that restricts public passage to the stream is illegal.


Citations

Access via Public Road Crossing

Diversion Lake Club v. Heath, 126 Tex. 129, 86 S.W.2d 441, 442 (1935), explicitly recognized the legality of entering navigable waters from a public road:

Defendants ... entered the waters of Diversion Lake and fished in it by placing their boats into the water from the low bridge on which the public road crosses the river and the lake near the upper end of the lake. Thus they were able to obtain access to the waters of the lake without trespassing upon the property of plaintiff ... .

Regarding parking, see the Texas Transportation Code, §§ 545.301-545.308.

Recognition of Public Access Rights by Recent Legislation

In an Act passed in 2003 generally prohibiting the operation of wheeled or tracked motor vehicles in the beds of streams navigable by statute, the Texas Legislature stated:

(a) The legislature recognizes that the beds, bottoms, and banks of navigable rivers and navigable streams are precious and irreplaceable state resources that deserve protection.
(b) The legislature also recognizes that public access to navigable rivers, navigable streams, and the beds, bottoms, and banks of navigable rivers and streams is: (1) a right granted to individuals under the Texas Constitution; and (2) an important economic and recreational resource for the people of this state.
(c) The protection of public access to the beds, bottoms, and banks of navigable rivers and navigable streams, therefore, should not come at the cost of uncontrolled damage to the beds, bottoms, and banks of navigable rivers and streams or at the cost of infringing on private property rights.
Acts 2003, 78th Leg., Regular Session, ch. 800, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 2003.

Private Obstructions in a Public Road's Right of Way

In Cornelison v. State, 40 Tex. Crim. 159, 49 S.W. 384 (1899), a private party owned land on both sides of a 30 foot wide roadway. A 14 foot wide bridge spanned a creek. The landowner ran fences to the bridge corners, obstructing 8 feet of right of way on each side of the bridge. The court upheld a criminal conviction of the landowner for obstructing a public road.

Today obstructing a highway or other passageway is a misdemeanor under Texas Penal Code § 42.03 (see section on Obstructions).


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