It is the goal of the state of Wisconsin to provide, maintain and improve access to the state's navigable lakes, rivers and streams for the public. Public access facilities shall allow for public rights of navigation, related incidental uses and other uses which are appropriate for the waterway. Waterway uses shall be equally available to all waterway users and include enjoyment of natural scenic beauty and serenity. These public rights and uses may be provided by any combination of publicly and privately owned access facilities which are available to the general public free or for a reasonable fee. The department, alone or in cooperation with local government, shall exercise its management and regulatory responsibilities to achieve this goal and to assure that levels and types of use of navigable waters are consistent with protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of natural resources.
Acquire, develop, maintain and improve navigation access which meets policy objectives;
Provide public access to lands adjacent to state waters for uses that are not directly related to navigation but which require or are enhanced by proximity to water;
Work with local units of government, other state and federal agencies and citizens to acquire, develop, maintain and improve public access;
Work with private access providers to acquire, develop, maintain and improve access available to the public;
Develop standards for public access acquisition, development, maintenance and improvement that provide recreational opportunities consistent with demand, commensurate with the capacity of the resource to support recreation and that provide a broad range of recreational experiences;
Provide funding and services that enhance natural resource values of a waterway only if reasonable public boating access has been provided;
Enhance development of non-boating public access throughout the state to accommodate a significant population of disabled, elderly and others who elect not to use watercraft to enjoy and use the state's waterways;
Increase public awareness of water user responsibilities, public safety and measures to protect the natural resource values of our lakes, rivers and streams; and
Work with local units of government and citizens to help reduce use conflicts and trespass problems.
NR 1.90 History
Cr. Register, October, 1977, No. 262
, eff. 11-1-77; r. and recr. Register, March, 1994, No. 459
, eff. 4-1-94.
Public boating access standards. NR 1.91(1)(1)
Sections NR 1.91
shall apply to department decisions related to acquiring, developing, maintaining and improving public boating access sites, providing natural resources enhancement services and to other department decisions relating to protection and use of navigable waters. Sections NR 1.91
do not allow trespass across private lands, change existing trespass law nor change navigation laws. Sections NR 1.91
would not apply to waterways which are not public navigable waters such as most artificial manmade ponds. The rights of riparian owners for singular access to adjacent waterways would also be unaffected.
abandonment", “discontinuance" means a permanent or long-term closure of an access site whether by resolution, ordinance, signing, placement of a physical barrier or by other means that reduces access.
“Access site" means an area of land providing public boat access or carry-in access, which provides parking for vehicles with or without trailers.
“Carry-in access" means access designed only for non-trailered boat launching.
“Natural resources enhancement services" means funding or activities that increase the recreational or environmental values of a waterway. These services include but are not limited to fish stocking, removal or other fish population management, habitat development, financial assistance for aquatic plant harvesting and lake restoration grants as defined in s. NR 191.03 (5)
“Open water acres" means the water body surface which appears as water predominantly devoid of emergent vegetation on recent aerial photographs representative of the navigation season. This determination shall be made by the department and shall include open water acres on all contiguous waters connected by a channel or river commonly navigated by motorized craft.
“Plan" means an alternative boating access and waterway protection plan developed by the department or a local unit of government pursuant to sub. (6)
“Public access", for purposes of s. NR 1.92
, means any site providing motor vehicle access to ice-bound waters, public boating access or carry-in access.
“Public boating access" means any site or combination of sites including private sites meeting the provisions of sub. (7)
at which the general public may gain legal access to a body of water by the process of launching a boat.
“Reasonable public boating access" means opportunities for public enjoyment and use of navigable waters which:
Allow public rights of navigation and related incidental uses of the water which are equal for all,
Comply with the standards for boating access established in this policy,
Are available free or at a reasonable fee as determined by standards established in this policy, and
Assure that levels and types of waterway use by all users do not interfere with public health, safety and welfare.
“Reduced" means lowering the number of parking units available for public use.
“Resident" means a natural person who permanently resides or owns real property within the unit of government maintaining or operating the access site.
“Resource protection services" include but are not limited to nonpoint pollution control grants, loans for municipal sewage treatment facilities, acquisition grants under the urban green space program, lake planning grants, lake protection grants and funding for municipal boating safety patrols and aids to navigation.
“Season pass" means authorization to use boat access facilities provided by the issuing authority when use of the facilities are available from January 1 to December 31 of each year.
“Services level" means that level of public boating access which meets or exceeds the levels described in sub. (4)
When acquiring and developing public boating access sites, the following shall have priority, in no prescribed order of importance:
Sites on lakes of over 500 open water acres that fail to meet the services level specified in sub. (4)
Sites, statewide, on waters having the greatest boating demands.
Sites which will provide public boating access to rivers and carry-in access to streams failing to meet the services level specified in sub. (4)
Minimum public boating access to qualify waters for resource enhancement services. NR 1.91(4)(a)
The department may only provide natural resource enhancement services for a body of water when it determines that the general public has been provided with reasonable public boating access. The department may not provide natural resource enhancement services on waters where public access has been abandoned or reduced without prior approval by the department.
The department may continue to provide enhancement services to waters that do not meet minimum public boating access development standards where the department determines that existing access facilities are sufficient to meet existing public demand for access.
The department may provide resource protection services for pollution abatement or prevention, natural resources protection, public safety or public boating access if public boating access is not available on a waterway.
A waterway has reasonable public boating access and is eligible for natural resource enhancement services when public boating access meets the following standards:
- See PDF for table
In addition to these standards, additional parking for handicapped individuals meeting the federal and state standards shall also be met. Lakes greater than 50 open water acres in size shall be provided with facilities capable of launching a trailered boat unless exempted by an approved plan.
Parking shall be contiguous with the launch site unless the department determines that resource protection, spatial restrictions or other factors require a greater distance. At each site parking for persons with disabilities may be provided at a location different from that for the general public if necessary to comply with federal accessibility standards.
Public boating access shall be available free or at a fee meeting the requirements of sub. (11)
Public boating access support facilities such as toilets, waste containers, lights, etc., shall be provided where necessary for public safety, or to protect resources or resolve conflicts with affected property owners.
Public boating access shall, at a minimum, be open during normal operating hours for outdoor public recreational facilities in the vicinity and year-round unless public safety requires closure. An exception may be made when public boating access is provided through agreement with a private provider. Any boat launched during operating hours may not be denied egress from the water at any time through the public boating access. Any designated parking unit when found unoccupied shall be considered available for use regardless of prior occupancy, except those designated for handicap use.
Public boating access shall provide for use which is consistent with protection of navigable water and generally enjoyed by all users.
Local units of government or the department may pursue more public boating access to waters than is required in sub. (4)
. The department may pursue public boating access to achieve the maximums in par. (b)
unless local governments or the department adopt and implement a plan.
The department has determined that granting permits for boating access on bodies of water where the maximum access standards are exceeded will materially impair navigation and is detrimental to the public interest. The department may not pursue public boating access development nor may it approve permits or provide financial assistance for public boating access beyond the levels described in this subsection unless greater levels are established in a plan.
- See PDF for table
Alternative public boating access and waterway protection plans. NR 1.91(6)(a)(a)
Natural resource enhancement services may be provided for waters that have less public boating access than that in sub. (4) (d)
, and public boating access may be developed that exceeds levels in sub. (5) (b)
only if local governments or the department implement a plan. Plans developed by local governments require written approval by the department prior to adoption.
Plans shall identify and assess the effects of waterway use on natural resources, describe mechanisms to protect public safety and natural resources, and identify public boating access that meets the objectives of s. NR 1.90
. Plans may apply to individual waters or groups of similar waters. Plans shall consider environmental as well as social and developmental factors which may include:
Nature and composition of fish, wildlife and presence of threatened or endangered resources.
Ability of the municipality to regulate land use and development.
Ability of the municipality to enforce public safety regulations.
Trespass problems associated with increased access on rivers and streams.
Appropriate levels and types of public access based on a consideration of the issues in subds. 1.
Ability of the municipality to effectively implement the plan.
The department shall approve proposed plans and implementing ordinances if it determines that the plans and implementing ordinances are consistent with protection of public health, safety and welfare, the objectives of s. NR 1.90
and include an accurate analysis of the issues in par. (b)
. Department decisions related to plan approval may be appealed under ch. 227
, Stats. The department shall withhold enhancement services until an approved plan is fully implemented. Public boating access site development shall comply with any approved plan. The department may not approve grants and permits if the decision would conflict with an approved plan.
The sponsor of an approved plan shall publish a summary of the plan as a class I legal notice.
The department may waive the minimum reasonable access standards or the need for an alternative plan where it finds that this would not serve to protect the public rights and interest in the waterway.
Privately owned public boating access shall be included in any determination of access availability for purposes of compliance with ss. NR 1.91
and provision of resource enhancement services if:
It is provided free or for a reasonable fee, as defined in sub. (11)
The owner furnishes an irrevocable contract with the state, agreeing to provide specified public boating access facilities for not less than 5 years, and
Facilities meet the public boating access site development standards under sub. (8)