Arkansas River Water Trail

The Arkansas River was designated as a National Water Trail by the National Park Service in 2016. There are currently at least 22 sites along the river which are open to the public for paddling.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • Who owns the Water? In Kansas, water is not considered property unless you have a legal property right to it (water law is bonkers, there are like 8 layers of government involved) and is thus owned “by the people” of Kansas.  An exception is the water right I mentioned, where a property owner has a legal right to use a specific amount of water, say for crop irrigation, or to fill the ponds on their fish farm. Otherwise, surface water in Kansas, including that in the river, is considered to be “owned by the people” of the state.
  • Who owns/controls the land? In Kansas, property owners who own land on one side of a body of water such as a stream or river, own the LAND BENEATH the stream or river, to the center of the main channel.  For example, if I own property on the Ninnescah River, and my Neighbor owns the other side, my right to occupy the land beneath the water ends at the center of the channel, which is also where my neighbor’s right to occupy the land begins.  ALSO, it would be considered trespassing if I did not have my neighbors permission to step across that line.  Therefore… property rights being what they are, it’s conceivable that I could “float” down any body of water, as long as I didn’t touch any land, including the land beneath the river I’m on!  (So confusing, I know.)  This is not advisable 🙂 Particularly in Kansas, there really aren’t many stretches of river where you A) wouldn’t have a 100% chance of touching private property at some point, either to get on or off the river, or during the trip and B) wouldn’t be noticed by the landowner and get law enforcement called or worse. 
  • Navigable Waters of the United States: There are 3 “Navigable” rivers in Kansas, the Arkansas, Kansas (Kaw) and the Missouri. Navigable waters of the United States are “those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce. A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which impede or destroy navigable capacity.”  Navigability of a water body is a determination made by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. It’s likely that the only reason the Arkansas River is “Navigable” is because of how frequently it is used for barge traffic in it’s southern reaches.
  • What’s all that mean? Well, it means that, you have the legal right to be between the “ordinary high water mark” on either side of the river, as long as you are accessing the river from a public access point, and you do not venture above that “high water mark” onto privately owned land.  Unlike the other streams in Kansas, the area between those “high water marks” are not private property – the landowner on either side ONLY owns the land down to the “high water mark.”
  • Um. Ordinary High water mark? Oh hey, more complications. This is a big debate – nobody really wants to more tightly define this term. Basically, it means, if there are signs of permanent vegetation at a certain spot on the bank, that’s probably the highest the river has been in awhile and most people would see that as an “ordinary high water mark.”