A group of private land owners will appeal a court decision giving people the right to travel the waters on their property.
The case stems from a 2010 suit brought by property owners from a remote area of the Adirondacks that Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown crossed through during a 2009 canoe trip between Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila. His trip avoided a state-built portage and went through private property, which he did for his story, “Testing the Legal Waters.”
The property owners, Friends of Thayer Lake and Brandreth Park Association, filed a suit against the Adirondack Explorer on the basis that Brown had trespassed when he disregarded posted signs and warnings.
State Supreme Court Judge Richard Aulisi ruled earlier this year that Brown had a right to travel across the property on the water. His ruling declared the waterway in question was “navigable in fact,” which means it is open to water travelers under the established common law principle of right of navigation.
The ruling only allows travelers to navigate through a private property when necessary. It doesn’t extend to activities like fishing or camping.
Dennis Phillips, an attorney for the property owners, said they plan on appealing the decision. He did not say whether they will seek a court stay, which would halt the order from Aulisi that the property owners take down any sign, cables or other obstructions that block travel on their waterway.
Adirondack Explorer Publisher Tom Woodman said the ruling had implications beyond the waterways in question, which included Mud Pond, the Mud Pond Outlet and a portion of Shingle Shanty Brook. He said it was a modern affirmation of the common law right to travel across private waterways.
“We’re confident in the strength of our case,” said Woodman.
If Aulisi’s ruling stands, it could mean more people will take advantage of the right to travel across private waterways to reach public waters for recreational purposes. Traditionally this right was only widely accepted for commercial interests, like logging.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation weighed in on the case in 2010 and declared the waterway was subject to an easement for public navigation. The state Attorney General’s Office maintained the public had a right to traverse the waterway.