Opportunities to expand angling access throughout the country have become increasingly limited in recent years due to increases in private ownership along waterways and attendant riparian rights limiting new access construction. State authorities often have the opportunity to expand fresh water angling access through the establishment of access points when state highway transportation departments are planning, designing, and building bridges and roads along and across waterways. The state natural resource agencies receive funding for angling and boating access construction through the Sport Fish Restoration program but must provide a non-federal match for a portion of the project cost. The in-kind and cash contributions of the highway transportation departments can count as that match. The prioritization of such projects for angling access is a great opportunity for increasing angler participation and leveraging both state and federal funding.
Lack of angling access is one of the primary reasons why lapsed anglers no longer participate in the sport. Opportunities to expand angling access throughout the country have become increasingly limited in recent years due to increases in private ownership along waterways and attendant riparian rights limiting new access construction. Although state natural resource agencies have funds available to create angler access through the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (paid for by anglers and boaters), many states have already “built-out” the available and affordable angling access opportunities on limited riparian lands. With outright land acquisition opportunities limited, states must look for new avenues of providing access to our nation’s waterways. One often overlooked opportunity is to prioritize the establishment of new access points when state highway transportation departments are planning, designing, and building bridges and roads along and across waterways.
In 2013, Maryland passed HB 797, the Waterways Access Bill, which provided an opportunity to increase angling access throughout the state’s 10,000 miles of waterways and 4,000 miles of shoreline by requiring transportation projects to consider the feasibility of waterway access along the state’s roads and bridges. Maryland’s HB 797 was an innovative step forward and a great example of how to improve recreational angling access throughout the country by way of road and bridge construction projects.
Points of Interest
- NC, TN, and CA have made similar efforts to pass legislation or enter into agreements with their transportation departments to consider waterway access in transportation projects.
- HB 797 is closely modeled from Maryland’s Pedestrian and Bicycling Safety Accommodations.
- HB 797 enjoyed widespread bipartisan support and was lauded by both in-state and national conservation organizations for its innovative approach promoting recreational access to the state’s waterways.
- State agencies must use at least 15% of their apportioned federal Sport Fish Restoration Program funding on boating access projects, such as building a new boat ramp or courtesy dock. However, 25% of the total project cost must come from non-federal dollars, whether state, county, city, or in-kind.
- By partnering with state natural resource agencies, highway and transportation departments can leverage available Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund monies earmarked for access construction to enhance public access to waterways as well as roads, while also assisting with meeting the non-federal match requirement by cost sharing with the state agency or through in-kind donations to the project.
- Opportunities may also exist for governors to formalize this prioritization of waterway access by way of executive order.
To increase angler access to public waters, it is strongly recommended that elected officials – legislators and governors – support plans and/or legislation similar to HB 797, which capitalizes on existing transportation development projects at the state and federal levels.