In March 2005, the WPCVB began to look at Bayou Dorcheat for establishing canoe trails when they were approached by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to help create this new market underutilized by the state.
The state is now beginning to show more interest and develop canoe trails along other waterways. The WPCVB doesn’t want Webster Parish to be left out.
“We’ve worked on this for so long and it has taken a long time to complete,” said Lynn Dorsey, director of the WPCVB. “I want to see this project finished because it will be a great boost for Webster Parish and Bayou Dorcheat.”
It could also be a great boost for landowners along the bayou.
Dora Ann Hatch, LSU Agcenter agritourism coordinator, recently spoke to a group of people at the Minden-South Webster Chamber of Commerce about her efforts to develop canoe trails in northeast Louisiana. Hatch said landowners that allow access to their land for reasons like camping and shuttling visitors to restaurants and lodging could earn some money by charging for the access.
Lane Merritt of Cotton Valley attended that meeting and said the landowners should be involved, but he also wants them to be educated about the legalities surrounding canoe trips and use of private property during those trips.
“We want the landowners as partners, but the only way to do that is to make them feel safe that nothing will happen to them or their land,” he said.
One of the concerns landowners had was if they would be held legally accountable should anything happen to a canoeing visitor on their land. Merritt and Dorsey researched and found La.R.S. 9:2795, a law that eliminates a landowner’s liability for injuries sustained on their land when it is used for recreation. That excludes land used for commercial recreation, such as Six Flags or Disney World.
The law also eliminates government’s liability for public land used as a park.
Private land is covered under this law as long as the use is “recreational” while public land is only covered if it is owned, leased or managed by Wildlife and Fisheries or if it is a park managed by some other government agency. Landowners along Bayou Dorcheat would be protected under this law if recreational boaters injured themselves.
The only way the landowner is not covered under the law is if they do something willful or malicious to harm the boaters.
The law is altered, however, if the landowner charges a daily fee for accessing the land as that land would then be used as commercial recreation.
Also, immunity to fault for injuries sustained while on the property will not apply when a landowner willfully fails to warn of a dangerous condition of which they know and that is not open and obvious to the recreational user.
“Previous public access issues along Bayou Dorcheat prompted me to seriously research the effectiveness of the little known Recreational Use Statutes,” Merritt said. “Without exception, I always found that it does have ‘teeth.’
Carefully considering all things as an informed and effected landowner, I can find no downside to supporting the proposed canoe trail along Bayou Dorcheat. And Dorcheat absolutely needs people who canoe.”
Dorsey said with this in mind, she would like to encourage landowners to join with the WPCVB in making the canoe trails a success. She and others are currently in the process of installing duck boxes that double as mile markers along the bayou.
They hope to have the canoe trails finished by the end of this year.