"Navigable waters are public highways or easements held in trust for the public by the state, regardless of whether the waters run through privately owned land."
That was the argument made by a representative of the attorney general's office in state Supreme Court a couple of Fridays ago, and it is the better argument. If accepted by the judge, as it should be, it would mean that a lawsuit brought by a bunch of private property owners against Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown, who tested the common-law principle stated above during a wilderness canoe trip in 2009, would be thrown out.
The owners argue that they own the shallow waterway, and have every right to post or even put up chains across it, as they did after Brown used it on his test paddle.
If they prevail, canoeists traveling between some Adirondack lakes would have to get property owners' permission to pass through, or else find a place to portage if they could.
Common law says the public should have access to navigable waters for trade or travel. In the Adirondacks, that originally meant commerce -- i.e. logging -- but today commerce in the park also means tourism and recreation. The right of public access to navigable waters, wherever located, needs to be officially recognized and preserved.