Local Government Capacity

Whether it is a lack of funding for land acquisition, capital improvements or ongoing maintenance, local governments face serious financial challenges in creating or enhancing public access. Local governments have reported cuts in operational budgets, staff capacity and funding for local project assistance, which has limited their ability to support site development and monitoring.


Public sector funding for public access is limited. The lack of a strong and stable funding source can hamper the development of new access sites and create a backlog of maintenance needs. Existing maintenance needs make it harder for agencies to justify new site development and reduce the use of sites suffering from storm damage or channel siltation. Of particular concern are reductions in federal funding for the maintenance of shallow water navigation channels: a loss of boating opportunities would mean a loss of economic revenue for the region. While fees collected through the licensing and registration of power crafts do contribute to funding for public access, paddle craft are generally not licensed or registered and therefore do not contribute to this funding source.

Land Use and Ownership

Land use and ownership play a critical role in public access development. In urban areas, commercial and residential waterfronts can limit public access. In rural areas, private landowners can restrict public access to maintain their exclusive use of a waterway and avoid potential issues of liability. For this reason, federal and state agencies are encouraged to evaluate the potential for additional public access opportunities on public lands under their control.

Universal Accessibility

Universal Accessibility standards and guidelines compel public access site managers to comply with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504, as amended) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (as amended). The high visibility of these laws has generated public interest in bringing facilities into compliance. Considering accessibility requirements in site planning and evaluating accessibility accommodations are important steps in ensuring public access.

Conflicts Among Users

Conflicts among the users of public access sites can take many forms. They may develop when users think a site is being used in a non-designated way, or when users have different opinions on who paid for a site (and, therefore, on who has the right to use it). Conflicts can also occur when a landowner thinks a site will adversely affect him or her (e.g., through unwanted traffic, noise or litter). As news of real or perceived conflicts spreads, the development of access sites can become more difficult.


Railroads limit access to many rivers in the watershed, sometimes on both banks. Railroad companies are often opposed to granting at-grade vehicle or pedestrian crossings over rail lines, citing liability as their primary concern. Fully developed road crossings are costly to construct, maintain and operate, making the development of many access sites prohibitively expensive.

Climate Change

Public access sites are often located where land meets water, and it is here where the first impacts of sea level rise will be seen. While most facilities are designed to withstand storms and, to some extent, hurricanes, less emphasis is put on site designs that address sea level rise. Mounting evidence indicates that it is important to consider strategies that address the real and growing concern of climate change.