Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Range war pits paddlers against property owners on North Country rivers

It turns out this kind of feud between paddlers and landowners is common across the US. “They’ve told me to get out, given me dirty looks and threatened and I haven’t quite had a gun pointed at me whereas other people I know have had guns pointed at them. Eric Leaper is director of the National Organization for Rivers, a paddler advocacy group based in Colorado. Earlier this year, landowners in his state lobbied aggressively to defeat a bill that would’ve clarified the rights of paddlers to run most of that state’s navigable rivers, even if they pass through private property. “And rancher after rancher got up and said ‘this ranch has been in my family for 3 or 4 generations and now you’re going to come take my property,’ and I do have sympathy because they have this long-standing misunderstanding that the river flowing through their ranch is private. Now they know the county road going through their ranch isn’t private, but they think the river is,” Leaper said. This is the pivot-point of the debate: a tangled legal argument going on state-by-state over what rivers are. Are they part and parcel of the land that surrounds them, or are they travel corridors open to everyone for commerce and recreation? Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer magazine and an avid paddler who’s written extensively about this topic. He says here in the state of New York there’s actually a lot of legal precedence supporting the idea that rivers are a kind of traditional public highway. “This common law right dates back to old England so in a way this represents our heritage. Their was a time when rivers were used as travel, a sense that you know, a private a landowner may doesn’t the rivers, or they may own the rivers but the public has the right to travel on them,” Brown said...more

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