Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Breaking: DEC Defending Paddlers’ Rights

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has sided with paddlers in the dispute over the public’s right to canoe through private land on Shingle Shanty Brook and two adjacent waterways.

In a letter to the landowners, DEC asks them to remove cables, no-trespassing signs, and cameras meant to deter the public from using the canoe route. If they fail to comply, the department warns, the matter could be referred to the state attorney general for legal action.

Christopher Amato, DEC’s assistant commissioner for natural resources, wrote the letter in September after negotiations with the owners failed to reach an agreement.

“The Department has concluded that Mud Pond, Mud Pond Outlet and Shingle Shanty Brook are subject to a public right of navigation, and that members of the public are therefore legally entitled to travel on those waters,” Amato said in the letter, dated September 24.

Amato told the Adirondack Explorer that DEC won’t take action right away. He hopes that the owners—the Brandreth Park Association and its affiliate, the Friends of Thayer Lake—will reconsider their position over the winter. Spokesmen for the owners declined to comment.

The Explorer will carry a full report in its November/December issue. The story is online now and can be read here.

The Explorer touched off the dispute last year by publishing my account of a canoe trip from Little Tupper Lake to Lake Lila. Instead of portaging around private land, I paddled down the three waterways. After that article appeared, the Sierra Club asked DEC to force the landowners to remove a cable and no-trespassing signs along the route. The landowners, however, put up a second cable and installed motion-activated cameras.

DEC contends that the public has a common-law right to paddle the waterways. The owners argue that the common law applies only to water bodies that have a history of commercial use (and the three waterways in question do not).

If the landowners stick to their guns, it’s likely that the dispute will end up in the courts.

Past posts to the Almanack on this topic, both by Mary Thill and myself, have generated much discussion. It will be interesting to see what readers on both sides of the debate have to say about this latest development.

Illustrations: Phil Brown on Shingle Shanty Brook by Susan Bibeau; a map of the Lila Traverse is online.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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