Though during the years when I was working at a farm down the road from me we did pretty much "clear" a section of the creek that flowed through after having found that if we didn't during times of flood a good deal of water would be diverted from the creek course through our fields. And it did damage. There was current when the creek was obstructed, standing water only when it wasn't. But that was just in one section where we had problems, we left the rest pretty much be.
I'd never suggest clearing a stream of all woody debris - but cutting a path - three or four feet wide and something that a paddler might have to duck to get under seems like a "good deed" done for all involved, paddlers, land owners, the DNR (since they don't have to listen to complaints about something they would never do anything about, at least in this state, anyway).
There is a safety aspect, though admittedly usually pretty minor, to this also. It isn't always perfectly safe clambering up a muddy undercut bank, hauling a boat, upstream of a strainer. Often that's the only way around, and it could contribute to erosion if enough people follow the same route around or if its in unstable condition due to the weather. Beating a path through what's often deep, soft mud on the inside of a bend isn't without consequences either.
The fellow who brought this to my attention (while I was manning a booth at Canoecopia for a volunteer river protection group) was speaking of a part of a creek just outside of our county that another local volunteer group was working to clean up. They encountered an obstinate landowner who claimed that if he let them cut a path through the downed trees his property would be over run with drunken canoeists and he would have to clean up after them. (Not likely...) He flatly refused to let them cut a path through the downed trees on his land and his stated reason is that he wants to discourage folks from paddling the stream. He continues to do so. Alas, having seen what some, especially the rental paddlers, often do out on the river proper, I can see where those fears might come from.
Of course for most of my life, I've just portaged around such things, quickly, quietly, almost covertly. Or if I felt in a generous mood toward future paddlers or thought I might be back often myself, I'd cut a path quickly, quietly, and almost covertly.
I feel no guilt about it either way. And I totally agree with reefmonkey, it is no big deal either way, as I see it.
But until I met this fellow it never occurred to me that there was ever anything potentially criminal about clearing a small opening for a canoe while on the water. It was just something one did to get rid of an annoyance, like swatting mosquitoes or removing a stone from one's boot. Who questions who's stone that is in your boot or if those mosquitoes are "live stock" and the property of the owner of the land they fly over? (Perhaps raised on site to discourage drunken paddlers?)
So I mentioned it here because it seems related to the topic of "who owns the river; is it public or private".
Kayak & Canoe Covers
Deck Rigging Gear
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