Who owns the rivers?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the bed and banks of all rivers are owned are owned by the state, to be held in trust for the use of the public. These precedents are collectively known as the Public Trust Doctrine and they apply equally to all the states of the Union. Under these precedents, rivers are public, including the dry banks up to the ordinary high water mark. In laymen's terms, the ordinary high water mark is the clearly defined line where the vegetation and grasses die off and the gravel banks begin.

The National Organization for Rivers has a thorough FAQ on established river law here.

Is the Finley River navigable?

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, "rivers that are navigable in fact are navigable in law." In other words, if a river is physically navigable, it is legally navigable unless the courts rule otherwise. No such court has ever ruled on the Finley River. As for the Finley River, people routinely float the Finley and put in miles upstream of Linden and float past it to miles downstream of Linden. It is not uncommon to see floaters doing so every summer weekend.

If further proof is needed as to the navigability of the Finley, simply look at this picture. Does this look like a navigable river? Not according to Prosecutor Amy Fite and Sheriff Joey Kyle.

The supposedly non-navigable Finley River

What is Elder v. Delcour?

Although it is already established federal law that rivers are public in all fifty states, we are blessed in Missouri to have the added protection of the 1954 Missouri State Supreme Court case Elder v. Delcour.

In the case, a Mr. Elder and his wife were floating the Meramec River. The river passed through the property of a man named Delcour. Mr. Elder and his wife came to a fence across the river at the edge of Mr. Delcour's property. Mr. Elder and his wife got out and carried their canoe around the fence and while doing so Mr. Delcour stopped them and advised them that they were trespassing and that he would sue them if they did not turn back. Mr. Elder and his wife continued on down the river anyway, also having to stop a second time to portage through Mr. Delcour's land for about thirty yards because of a logjam in the river.

But even more importantly, while floating the section of the river that ran through Mr. Delcour's property, the couple also stopped and pulled their canoe up on the dry bank to eat and fish. This part is key, because it denotes that Mr. Elder and his wife were NOT merely venturing on the dry bank to portage around an obstacle while navigating the river but had also used the dry banks for recreational purposes as well.

The matter between Elder and Delcour eventually went to trial court, where the court ruled in favor of Mr. Elder and his claim that he was not trespassing. It was appealed all the way to the Missouri State Supreme Court, who again sided with Mr. Elder. In practical terms, the Missouri State Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Elder was not trespasing on the dry banks of the river, even when simply using the dry banks for recreational purposes such as fishing and eating lunch.

The reason they ruled this way is simple: Rivers are public, including the dry banks up to the ordinary high water mark.

If the dry banks of rivers below the high water mark are public, why is the public being escorted off them at Linden?

That is a question we would encourage all of you to ask Prosecutor Amy Fite and Sheriff Joey Kyle. So far they are seemingly the only ones who fail to acknowledge this simple legal fact.

The local water patrol has instructed them both that the dry banks below the high water mark are public.

The local conservation department has instructed them both that the dry banks below the high water mark are public.

Even some of their own deputies have publicly acknowledged that the dry banks below the high water mark are public.

And yet, people continue to be escorted away and denied their legal access to the Finley River in violation of federal and state law.

Latest News

7-16-2012
The sheriff's department still had their off-duty officer posted at the dam this weekend. However, it appeared the license and registration check wasn't set up at the entrance to Linden on Sunday and there were nowhere near as many officers present, so perhaps the sheriff's department has finally decided to ease up on their campaign of harassment and stop with their questionably-legal roadblock. Another victory? Time will tell.

7-07-2012
Due to the continuing campaign of harassment at Linden, we have added contact information for several relevant elected officials to the front page of the site. Please call and email them as well. Every single call helps!

7-05-2012
The sheriff's department must have decided Linden needed some babysitting for the Fourth. There was a particularly loud and childish off-duty officer posted at the dam who spent the day screaming belligerently at families through a bullhorn and basically doing his level best to ruin everyone's peaceful holiday. At one point, he even aggressively got into the faces of a few kids and screamed and threatened to arrest them for disorderly conduct because one of them committed the grave crime of wishing him a happy fourth after they'd been hollered at. Pathetic. Happy Fourth of July from the Christian County Sheriff's Department.

7-02-2012
Another weekend, another not-quite-legal license and registration check at the entrance to Linden with officers everywhere. They were still incorrectly ordering people off the submerged dam. Isn't it funny that just a few months back Sheriff Joey Kyle was begging Christian County voters to renew the law enforcement tax for the supposedly cash-strapped department, yet he somehow has the money and resources to waste on a dozen officers manning a permanent roadblock at Linden just to intimidate and inconvenience people away from a public swimming hole every weekend?

6-25-2012
Christian County sheriff's deputies were once again manning their questionably-legal and retaliatory roadblock at the entrance to Linden this weekend. Rest assured that the sheriff's department is devoting countless man hours to stopping the hundreds of dangerous criminals that might wreak havoc and threaten the fabric of our society by swimming in the Finley River. Still no signs of anyone being escorted off the banks as before, although deputies continued to incorrectly inform people that they were trespassing on the submerged sections of the dam and were loudly ordering people away from it all weekend.

6-18-2012
Still no word from the prosecutor or sheriff that they will cease misleading people and telling them that they're trespassing if they stand in the river atop the submerged section of the dam. So please keep those calls and emails coming--every single one helps! Let them know that if you're standing in the water of the Finley River, you are NOT trespassing as no prosecutor, sheriff, or home owner can impede your access to ANY section of the river under federal and state law. The sheriff's department once again had around a dozen deputies at Linden through the weekend manning a roadblock for mandatory license checks, although fortunately there were still no signs of anyone being escorted off the banks. All the same, one has to question the excessive waste of resources and the motivation of having that many deputies stationed at Linden for two full days every week to run the licenses of law-abiding people who just want to play in the river when there are over 500 square miles of Christian County that they are responsible for policing. Can everyone say "campaign of harassment?" How about "arbitrary checkpoint" and "police retaliation?"

6-09-2012
License and registration check continuing at the entrance to Linden, but as far as we can tell people are still being allowed to remain on the dry banks without harassment. We are still working to get the prosecutor and sheriff to recognize that it is NOT trespassing to be standing or sitting on the underwater sections of the dam (NOT the dry raised areas of the dam on each far side) and that the public has every legal right to be in that portion of the river as they would any other section of the river there--the law is clear and the fact that the dam is underneath the water in that piece of the river instead of river gravel does not change this. So please keep those calls and emails coming! We will keep everyone posted.

6-08-2012
We received an email from Sheriff Joey Kyle in regards to the Linden issue. Click here to read Sheriff Kyle's email and our response back to him.

6-02-2012
Success? There were at least 10 deputies manning a license and registration check at the entrance to Linden, but it appeared that they were no longer trying to keep people off the public dry banks near the dam. There was also one off-duty deputy standing guard duty on homeowner property above the high water mark upstream of the dam, but he also appeared to no longer be harassing people on the dry banks below the high water mark. This is the way Christian County should've handled the situation at Linden from the beginning. Is it permanent? Time will tell and we'll keep everyone informed.

5-27-2012
Hundreds of people at Linden today and the off-duty Christian County deputies were once again posted near the Linden dam and continued to turn away families looking to enjoy their Memorial Day weekend in the river. Yet again, people turned away were incorrectly instructed that they would be trespassing on the dry banks and threatened with arrest for doing so.

5-26-2012
Off-duty Christian County deputies, paid by the Linden homeowner's association in cooperation with the sheriff's department, are again stationed on the dry banks at Linden for Memorial Day weekend. Families are being turned away and erroneously told that they are trespassing if they don't remain in the water while north of the bridge.

5-24-2012
Reports are coming in that the Linden homeowner's association has smeared lubricant all over the dam. Please be aware of this if you're going to portage around the dam so that you or your children don't slip and break their necks, especially those of you transporting canoes downstream.

5-19-2012
Christian County sheriff's deputies were posted at Linden all weekend and continuously escorted families away from the dam. None of the families were informed that they could be in the waterway and were simply told incorrectly that "anything north of the bridge is private property." Missouri Conservation was present and instructed the deputies that their interpretation of river law was incorrect and that the dry banks as well as the waterway are public.