A canoeist has prevailed in a court case challenging paddlers’ right to cross private land on a shallow stream connecting two Adirondack lakes.
In a decision announced today, a divided midlevel court rejected the appeal of landowners, Brandreth Park Association and Friends of Thayer Lake.
They sued Phil Brown of Saranac Lake, editor of the Adirondack Explorer newspaper, after he wrote a 2009 article about paddling on the two-mile Mud Pond waterway across Brandreth land despite a no-trespassing sign and cable across the stream.
Three Appellate Division justices said the public access test is whether the stream is in fact navigable, or useful for travel or trade, even if it’s narrow and shallow, remote and can carry only small boats.
A landmark 1998 decision by the state’s highest court established that recreational use can be considered in deciding whether a waterway is open to the public. In that case, the Sierra Club successfully challenged a private landowner on the Moose River in Hamilton County.
A dissenting justice said impassable rapids and distance from public access strain the definition of navigability.
The stream crosses a corner of a tract owned by descendants of Benjamin Brandreth in the Hamilton County town of Long Lake. It’s part of a network of streams and ponds connecting two lakes in the adjacent state-owned William C. Whitney Wilderness Area.
Paddlers traveling from Little Tupper Lake to Lake Lila typically use a .8-mile carry trail constructed by the state to bypass the stream segment on Brandreth property.
In a legal brief supporting Brown, the state Department of Environmental Conservation noted that the Adirondack Park is a nationally recognized canoe and kayak destination and the Whitney Wilderness Area is one of the most popular paddling and backcountry camping areas.
Tom Woodman, publisher of the Adirondack Explorer, said the decision “will help open up waterways around the state to public access.”
Dennis Phillips, the lawyer for the landowners, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.