As a small nonprofit publication, we operate on a shoestring and will have to struggle to pay all the costs associated with a court case that could last two or three years. Given the principle at stake, however, it’s imperative that we not back down. We have hired Glens Falls attorney John Caffry, an expert in this field of law, to represent us.
The decision in this case could define paddlers’ rights throughout the Adirondacks and the rest of New York state. If the case reaches the state’s highest court, it may even influence judges in other parts of the country.
The Explorer and the landowners have starkly different views of the common-law right of navigation. In brief, our contention is that the public has an age-old right to paddle through private property on navigable waterways that can be legally accessed and exited. The other side contends that the common law applies only to waterways that have a history of commercial use (such as log drives).
If you’re a paddler, the implications of the landowners’ claims should give you pause. Most rivers in the Adirondacks and elsewhere in the state flow through private land at some point. If you paddle much, you probably have been on some of them. Do you know their commercial history? Should your right to paddle these rivers depend on whether or not logs were floated down them in the 1800s? What if the commercial history of a river is unknown?
Incidentally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation agrees with our interpretation of the law and has told the landowners, in writing, that the waterways in dispute are open to the public.
If you’d like to learn more about the legal arguments, click here to find copies of the landowners’ complaint and our answer. You also will find links to some of the stories we’ve published on navigation rights.
Meantime, if you care about paddlers’ rights, please consider contributing to our legal defense fund. Click here to find out how. Donations are tax-deductible.
We need your support. Please let your friends know too.
Photo: Phil Brown on Shingle Shanty Brook.
Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.