The Illinois chapter of BHA has been actively working to fight for public access to your public waters across Illinois. Illinois has just over 87,000 miles of rivers and streams within its borders with just over 1,000 miles designated as public for use by everyone. The majority of water moving through Illinois is owned by landowners on the banks. As this water flows through the state, it touches the lands of many, solidifying the need for it to belong to many, all of us. Demands for public access to the outdoors continue to grow and disputes between public recreational users and private landowners on Illinois waterways like the DuPage and Mazon Rivers have gained a good deal of attention. Bi-partisan House Bill 5844 which aims to expand public access of Illinois navigable waters has been introduced to the Illinois legislature. HB5844 will align public access to waterways with other states and federal law, expanding your access and opportunities across the state.
Disputes over who is allowed to utilize waterways in Illinois for recreational purposes recently escalated all the way up to the Illinois Supreme Court in Adam Holm et al. v. Peter Kodat et al. Holm, a public water user, unsuccessfully argued that permission was not required to access non-navigable waterways in the state. However, in the resulting Jun. 2022 Supreme Court decision, the court acknowledged that the common law, which states public users are not legally allowed to access waterways that touch private property, no longer reflects the growing public interest and need for public recreational access on Illinois waters. The court called on the legislature to take action: “I concur in the result reached in today’s opinion, but I encourage the legislature to promulgate legislation so that the state’s nonnavigable lakes, rivers, and streams are not limited to use by riparian landowners but are available to the public for recreational use.”
Hunters, anglers and other recreators treasure the rich opportunities to wade, float and enjoy waterways in Illinois. It is imperative that our public waters remain open and accessible to all and that opportunity for a sunset paddle, a cast to a surfacing bass or decoy a cupped-up mallard with friends and family is available to every Illinoisan, regardless of how much land they own or how much money they have in their bank account. A change to water public access means the responsibility falls on all hands instead of just a few.
Illinois BHA supports HB5844, please join us by becoming a BHA member here and by asking your legislators immediately to SUPPORT HB5844 as well.