Collaborative Legislative Victory Secures Oregon Trail Access for Summer Season

For decades, Oregon’s recreational immunity law has protected landowners, including cities and counties, from lawsuits if someone got injured while using their land for recreation. This law incentivized landowners to open their properties, creating the vast network of trails that make the Oregon Coast such a unique and incredible destination. 

But access to Oregon’s recreational trails was threatened by a lawsuit last June, when an Oregon appeals court ruled that the city of Newport could be held liable after a woman broke her leg while using a trail bridge. The ruling caused a flood of uncertainty about liability on trails, and led to the closing of at least 22 trails. 

This court case challenged the state’s long-standing recreational immunity law, jeopardizing access to countless trails and threatening the future of tourism. However, a recent legislative victory offers a sigh of relief and a chance to develop a more permanent solution.

OCVA Lobbies for the Future of our Trails

Recognizing the potential devastation for tourism and outdoor recreation, The Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) – along with stakeholders like the Oregon Recreation & Park Association, the League of Oregon Cities, and the Oregon Trails Coalition – sprang into action. Their goal: secure a legislative fix to the weakened recreational immunity law. Senate Bill 1576 (SB 1576) emerged as the legislative answer, and aimed to be a temporary fix until a long-term solution could be developed. On February 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to pass the bill, and on March 27, 2024 Governor Kotek signed it into law. 

Leading up to this, On February 12, OCVA public affairs representative Rick Osborn joined over 70 advocates to meet with legislators and lobby for the importance of trails for tourism and local economies. Osborn testified before the committees, highlighting the critical role trails play in coastal communities and the urgent need to restore recreational immunity. You can watch a video of his full testimony here

This gathering was a testament to the importance of trail access in our coastal economy. “These trails are essential to our quality of life and everyday living,” Osborn said. “People visit here, and live here, to enjoy our natural resources and landscapes. We’re talking about beach access, horseback riding, hiking – trails are access to all of these things. It all requires access, and that’s what we came together to protect.” 

A Temporary Legislative Victory

Following testimony, the bill reached the Senate floor where it received broad support and passed by a vote of 25-2. It then moved to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Finally, on the afternoon of March 5, the House passed the bill with a resounding 50-0 vote, and on March 27, 2024 Governor Kotek signed it into law. 

This decision is a significant win, keeping trails open and reversing recent closures for the time being. However, SB 1576 has a sunset provision, meaning the fight isn’t over. OCVA and our coastal partners remain committed to securing a long-term solution. In this upcoming session, we plan to participate in the work group that will be formed to develop a more permanent legislative fix for recreational immunity.

“This was the best solution we could have hoped for,” said Osborn. “Finding a long-term answer requires a robust conversation between all parties involved. We’re looking for common ground that local government entities and private landowners can all support.”

Collaboration for the Future of Trail Access

Securing summer access to trails is a win, but the fight for a permanent solution continues. As we look forward to the next session, we are encouraged by the collaborative efforts of tourism and outdoor recreation organizations across the Oregon Coast. The story of SB 1576 is a testament to the power of that advocacy and collaboration.

As Osborn shared, “This collaboration provided a unique opportunity to build relationships with people and organizations who have a shared interest in keeping our coast a great place to live. I’m excited to continue working with this coalition on this issue, and future issues that we can help support.” 

Through continued work together, OCVA and our allies will continue to ensure that Oregon’s trails remain open, safeguarding a vital part of the state’s tourism industry and preserving outdoor access for residents and visitors alike.

Get Involved: 

If you’re wondering how you can get involved and support the future access or Oregon’s trails, a great place to start is by contacting your legislators and thank them for voting in favor of SB 1576. This was a massive effort requiring broad support, and appreciation goes a long way. You can review the Measure History to see the votes here

To stay tuned on future updates regarding this bill and other work this legislative session, sign up for our Industry Newsletter

Oregon Coast Visitors Association

The Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) is the official Regional Destination Management Organization for the entire Oregon Coast as designated by the Oregon Tourism Commission (dba Travel Oregon). OCVA inspires travel and strengthens collaboration to create and steward a sustainable coastal economy.

OCVA has the honor of working with coastal communities to align partnerships, destination development projects, and destination marketing with the vision of creating “a coastal utopia for all.” This includes coastal stakeholders, new and returning visitors, and the natural resources that make these coveted experiences so magical.