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Attitudes of Landowners towards River Users

Prepared by Bridget Warrenfeltz, Field Research Technician

The Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group is beginning their fourth year of data collection for their River Recreation study. Early this year, we distributed a survey to riparian landowners in the Paradise Valley to better understand the relationship between riparian landowners and recreation/river users. Over the past month, we have been able to look through the data and want to share our findings so far.

Respondents and Property Description

A total of 46 landowners, distributed across approximately 50 miles of river, participated in this survey. Of the 46 respondents:

  • 65% own property between Carbella and Loch Leven fishing access sites

  • 63% own less than 1 mile of riverfront, with 44% of those respondents owning less than 0.25 miles; only 4 respondents own 2 or more miles of riverfront.

  • 87% of respondents say that at least a portion of their property is easy to access from the river.

  • 43% of respondents have signs posted on their property, indicating that access to their land is restricted.

Interactions with Public

The first set of questions aimed to describe: 1) who landowners interact with above the ordinary high-water mark, and 2) the quality of those interactions. The key findings include:

1. The primary type of recreationist respondents have encountered above the high-water mark are fishermen (83%), followed by private recreational boaters (65%), commercial boaters (43%), and picnickers (33%).

2. Most respondents reported that their interactions during those encounters are “Highly variable -- from friendly to clueless to hostile”, closely followed by “Understanding/respectful” and “Friendly”. Only 1 of the 46 respondents categorized their interactions as “Uncomfortable/hostile/threatening” (Table 1).

Table 1. Responses to landowner’s interactions with recreationists above high-water mark.

Impact on Landowners/Concerns

The next set of questions intended to provide insight into: 1) how recreational use of the river impacts landowners, and 2) the severity of those impacts. The results are as follows:

1. 48% of respondents reported that recreational use of the river has impacted their use and enjoyment of their property.

  • When asked to provide examples, respondents primarily reported instances of:


-Ignoring designated river trails

-Treating private properties as bathrooms/leaving trash

-Disturbing the peace

-Irresponsibly starting fires

2. Over 30% of respondents reported the following issues as either “Growing” or “Significant” concerns on their property (Figure 1):

  • Trespassing (24% “Growing”, 19% “Significant”)

  • Litter/sanitation (29% “Growing”, 14% “Significant”)

  • Vandalism (33% “Growing”, 6% “Significant”)

  • Camping without permission/campfires (17% “Growing”, 13% “Significant”)

Figure 1. Responses ranking concern for series of common issues and challenges.

3. 11% of respondents reported that they have had to change land management practices within the last 5 years to accommodate the growing recreational use of the Yellowstone River.

4. 46% of respondents have had to assist recreationists in need of assistance or were in distress.

5. 48% of respondents feel that there is not sufficient enforcement of stream access laws to prevent unauthorized use of private property above the ordinary high-water mark.

Cross-tabulation Analysis

After sorting through the data, responses were then broken down by groups. So far, we have identified a few potential relationships:

1. Landowners who own larger amounts of riverfront report greater impacts to their property.

  • Landowners who own more riverfront responded “Yes, recreation has impacted the use or enjoyment of my property” more often than those who own less riverfront (Table 2).

Table 2. Responses to has recreation impacted use/enjoyment of property. Response count and % of row total.

  • Landowners who own more riverfront reported higher levels of concern for trespassing, litter/sanitation, vandalism, and camping without permission/campfires. Tables 3 and 4 serve as examples. (It should be noted that the number of responses for trespassing was significantly reduced due to a technical issue with the Google Forms survey)

Table 3. Responses to concern for trespassing grouped by miles of river owned. Response count and % of row total.

Table 4. Responses to concern for vandalism, grouped by amount of riverfront owned. Response count and % of row total.

2. Trespassing signs are not distributed equally across all landowner groups.

  • Respondents who reported greater concern for trespassing are more likely to have “No trespassing” signs (Table 5).

Table 5. Responses to whether land posted with signs, grouped by concern for trespassing. Response count and % of row total.

  • Respondents who own more riverfront are more likely to have “No trespassing” signs.

Table 6. Responses to whether land is posted with signs, grouped by amount of river front owned. Response count and % of row total.

Recommendations by Landowners

At the end of the survey, landowners had the option to add any recommendations for how to improve river users/landowner relations in the future. The primary suggestions were:

  • Increase signage indicating:

-Location of high-water mark

-Private property/No trespassing

-Educational signs

  • Educate river users on:

-Meaning of high-water mark

-Private vs. public land

-Fire risk and mitigation

-Proper waste disposal

  • Limit access to river:

-Commercial use


  • Better enforcement of rules/increased patrolling

  • Continue conducting and distributing research


The more knowledge we have regarding the challenges landowners face because of recreation, the better we can develop solutions that take some of the pressure off landowners and make recreation more enjoyable and efficient for everyone. We hope to continue to look into the variety of ways that recreation impacts landowners along the Yellowstone River.

Thank you for your attention to this report and your continued support for this study.



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