Protecting Public Access to the Van Duzen River


Friends of the Eel River, along with our allies in the Great Redwood Trail Friends coalition are still pursuing protections for public access to both the future Great Redwood Trail and the Van Duzen River at Fisher Road off of hwy 36. This long-established access point to the river was used by fishermen for generations. When the property owners were required to remove bank stabilization that was out of compliance with environmental standards, the river migrated inland and the former public parking lot and river access became unusable. You may recall that back in 2022 Humboldt County was considering “vacating” the public road – meaning turning it over to private ownership.  When that effort was abandoned, we still needed the County to take action to protect the public access and again many of you spoke up in the spring of 2023.

Now the Humboldt Board of Supervisors has moved the item into closed session, so whether or how they are making progress in protecting public access is unclear. Our coalition is remaining persistent. Over the last several decades there’s been a significant loss of public access points to our rivers. There are significantly more private lands in the Eel watershed than public, so despite the fact that navigable waters up to the high water mark are a part of the public domain, getting to those rivers can be extremely difficult.

Public Access

Public access needs to include appropriate signage, telling everyone where the appropriate places to access their rivers are – not just for those who know the “secret spots”. And public access requires some amount of management and enforcement on inappropriate uses of the access points. In the past we’ve lost public access points due to abuse like dumping or driving across sensitive habitat. That kind of abuse is not okay, but neither is closing access for everyone an appropriate response.

It is our vision that Humboldt County, along with appropriate partners like the Great Redwood Trail Agency, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, or others, will arrive at the appropriate decision to ensure access exists and the land and rivers are protected.

Coalition Letter


January 20, 2024

Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
825 5th Street
Eureka, CA 95501

TO: Members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors

Email:,,,, Clerk of the Board via email

RE: Action Needed to Protect Public Access to the Van Duzen River on Fisher Road

Dear Chair Bohn and Supervisors,

We are concerned about the lack of action by the County regarding the obstruction of public access on Fisher Road in Hydesville. At the May 16  Board of Supervisors meeting, the board accepted a letter from the Humboldt County Fish and Game Commission (dated April 18) advising the Board of their concern about the recent attempt to vacate the southern portion of Fisher Road, as well as the related barricade of public access to the Van Duzen River at the southern end of the road.

Humboldt County citizens want access to our rivers—a fact demonstrated by the continuous use of the river access off Fisher Road over the last century. Also, the trail users on the Great Redwood Trail will want to access the Van Duzen River from the trail where it intersects Fisher Road. This will be the only access point to the river along the Carlotta Branch of the Great Redwood Trail.

A few years ago, during a high-water event, the Van Duzen River cut out much of the road to the parking lot as well as a portion of the parking lot. A new access road was constructed over private property to gain access to the remainder of the parking lot and a dirt road heading west towards Starvation Flat. Later, however, K-Rails and fencing appeared blocking the road to the parking lot and “No Trespassing” signs were installed.

We do not believe that the property owners have the right to deny the public a right-of-way to access the Van Duzen River via Fisher Road. As the court held in the County’s defense of public access rights to the same Van Duzen River in the 1992 case Bess v. County of Humboldt (3 Cal. App. 4th 1547), “a right-of-way to a river extends to the river throughout any changes in the river’s course.”

As it did in Bess, Humboldt County has a duty today to protect its citizens’ rights to access the Van Duzen River and experience their right to fish, watch wildlife, stroll the riverbank, and otherwise enjoy the river below its high-water mark. As a navigable river, the Van Duzen River is generally open to such public uses. In practice, the public’s rights to use our rivers are constrained by access – by the points at which the public can safely and legally reach the water.

While we understand the Patton’s have withdrawn their request that the County vacate the public right-of-way along Fisher Road to the river, they continue to block access. The Patton’s have put up a gate along Fisher Road approximately three-quarters of a mile before the Van Duzen River that is frequently closed. Signs have been installed as you turn on to Fisher Road from Hwy 36 saying there is no public access to the river. Those signs do not reflect accurate information about the public’s right to access the river. These signs must be removed, and if a gate remains it must be properly operated to facilitate public access.

We appreciate the County’s reluctance to be heavy-handed in dealing with property owners understandably concerned about impacts to their property and peace of mind. But we ultimately must rely on the County to protect our established access rights to enjoy public trust resources like our rivers and streams. Tolerating this loss of public access will encourage other landowners to block public access for their own unique reasons.

Public access to the Van Duzen River at Fisher Road must be restored. Under Bess v. Humboldt, it is very clear that the County can restore this access. While we are willing to work with all interested parties to meet neighbors’ reasonable needs, we must insist the County take all appropriate action to restore public access to the river and its public trust resources as soon as possible.

Thank you for your action on this important matter.

Yours sincerely,

Karen Underwood
Advocacy Committee Chair
Humboldt Trails Council

Alicia Hamann
Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River

Colin Fiske
Executive Director
Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities

Carole Polasek
Public Lands Chair
Backcountry Horsemen of California – Redwood Unit

Kenny Priest
Fishing the North Coast

Tom Wheeler
Executive Director
Environmental Protection Information Center

Ruthie Maloney
North Coast Native Protectors Tribal Marine Collaborative

Regina Chichizola
Executive Director
Save California Salmon

Scott Harding
Stewardship Associate
American Whitewater

James Stone
Executive Board President
Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association