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Journalist sued in paddling dispute

Phil Brown paddles on Shingle Shanty Brook.
Phil Brown paddles on Shingle Shanty Brook.
Photo by Susan Bibeau

Last week I was served with a lawsuit for canoeing through private property in the wilds of the Adirondacks. The case could settle a longstanding dispute over navigation rights in New York State.

I made the canoe trip in May 2009 for a story about navigation rights that was published in the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine that summer. Click here to read the story.

The disputed waters—Mud Pond, Mud Pond Outlet, and Shingle Shanty Brook—connect two pieces of public land in the Whitney Wilderness. I believe the common-law right of navigation allows the public to paddle this route. The landowners—the Friends of Thayer Lake and the Brandreth Park Association—contend that I was trespassing.

In the lawsuit, the landowners are asking the court to rule that the waterways are not open to the public.

In September, the state Department of Environmental Conservation wrote the attorney for the landowners to say that the waterways are indeed open to the public. DEC has asked the state attorney general to intervene in the lawsuit. Click here to read a story about DEC’s position.

The landowners contend that a navigable waterway is open to the public only if it has a history of commercial use. They say the waterways in question lack such a history.

Since the lawsuit, the Associated Press and several newspapers have written about the case. Click here to read the AP story.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


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