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Preserving Public Access
Commission Good Hope access, Conodoguinet Creek, Cumberland County

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Pennsylvania provides nearly unlimited potential for recreational fishing and boating. The Commonwealth has 85,000 miles of rivers and streams ranging from headwaters to major river systems. More than 200,000 acres of lakes are within our borders. Lake Erie offers 735 square miles of water within Pennsylvania boundaries. However, to take advantage of these recreational fishing and boating opportunities that this vast aquatic resource offers, users must be able to access the water. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recognizes the important role access plays in your ability to pursue fishing and boating. To address threats to continued public access to fishable water, the Commission works in a variety of ways to ensure you and future generations will always have plenty of places to fish and boat.
Building & Improving Formal Access Sites
The Commission controls through state ownership, lease, or easements approximately 33,500 acres of land containing some four dozen public lakes and nearly 250 boating access/shoreline fishing areas. In addition, other state agencies, counties and local municipalities hold lands and facilities open for public fishing and boating. To find fishing and boating near year, visit our County Guides index.

In recent years, the Commission has made preserving and improving these public access points a strategic priority. The Commission has dedicated increased resources to boating facilities it owns, as described in our annual reports. We've also created a Boating Facilities Grant Program to help county and local governments improve their boating access sites. The Commission also provides a Technical Guidance Program to help local governments design boating access ramps, docks and fishing piers and administers. There are Boating Infrastructure Grants available for transient moorage (tie-ups) serving recreational motorboats 26 feet and longer.

Yet another program, the Erie Access Improvement Grant Program is securing access along Lake Erie and its tributaries.

Interested in helping the Commission ensure public access? You can donate to to the Conservation Acquisition Partnership, created by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to solicit and accept donations to be used solely to obtain additional access to Pennsylvania's water.

Related Links
bulletFunding for Lakes, Access and Related Facilities Managed by the PFBC

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Riparian Rights & Public Waters and Public Access

Public rights to and on the water is a very complex area of Pennsylvania law. In Pennsylvania, the public's rights to fish in a particular stream depends in large part on whether the stream is "navigable." In general, the public has the right to fish in a navigable waterway. The accepted test of navigability is whether the waters are used, or are susceptible to being used, in their ordinary condition, as highways for commerce. If the water met the navigability test at any point in its history, it remains a legally navigable waterway. There is no single published listing of all the navigable waters in Pennsylvania.

Although the public has the right to fish in a navigable stream flowing through private lands, this does not mean that the public has the right to cross posted private lands to get to the stream.

bulletFrequently Asked Questions about Public Waters

Lehigh River
bulletCase Overview
bulletLuzerne County Court Decision
bulletSuperior Court Decision
Little Juniata River
bulletAgencies' Commonwealth Court brief
bulletJudge’s ruling further confirms public’s rights on Little Juniata River
bulletLittle Juniata civil decision
bulletPublic’s right of access to Little Juniata River wins critical protection
bulletHuntingdon County Court Decision
bulletAgencies file suit
bulletAgencies' proposed findings of fact and conclusion of law
bulletAgencies' memorandum of law
bulletPlaintiff Bright's proposed findings of fact and conclusion of law
bulletPlaintiff Bright's memorandum of law
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Landowner Relations
Pennsylvania has a long and rich history of private landowners allowing the public access to on stream-side lands for fishing. While this practice has benefited generations of anglers, it also means that fishing as we know it in Pennsylvania is also very susceptible to privatization. Of our stocked trout waters, 83% are on private lands. About 70% of our wild trout waters are on private lands and 59% of our Class A trout waters are also on private lands.

The number one reason waters are removed from active management programs (like stocking) by the Commission is because of increased landowner posting in response to poor behavior such as littering, building open fires, trampling farm fields and blocking driveways and access roads. Preserving public access to private lands is a simple matter, but one that requires us all to take action to police ourselves. Recognize that the land you are on may very well be private property and act like a guest. Respect all postings, such as prohibitions against Sunday fishing.

Landowners: Did you know that Pennsylvania has legislation protecting landowners who hold their lands and waters open for free public recreational use? Read more about the Recreation Use of Land and Water Act.

Related Links
bulletSunday fishing
bulletLandowners, Sportsmen, and the Commission
bulletThe Great PA Cleanup
bulletRecreation Use of Land and Water Act

Fishing permitted signs

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Featured topics
County Guide
Privatization of Waters & Tithing to Conservation
Quaker Lake -- Commission Petitions County Court
Frequently asked questions
bulletPublic Waters
bulletFAQ index
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