The Adirondack Explorer has hired Glens Falls attorney John Caffry to defend me against alawsuit filed by landowners who claim I trespassed when I paddled through their property near Lake Lila last year.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has said the waterways in dispute—Mud Pond, Mud Pond Outlet, and Shingle Shanty Brook—are open to the public under the common-law right of navigation.
Caffry represented the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) in another navigation-rights case, Adirondack League Club v. Sierra Club et al. That lawsuit resulted in a landmark decision in 1998 by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, in which the judges ruled that recreational use could be considered in deciding whether a waterway is open to the public under the common law.
Caffry said the new lawsuit, filed last week by the Friends of Thayer Lake and the Brandreth Park Association, could impact paddlers throughout the state.
“Not only does this case have the potential to block public access to a navigable waterway, but if the outdated legal theories advanced by the plaintiffs were to be adopted by the courts and become the law, the state of the public’s right of navigation would be set back over a hundred years,” he said.
The landowners assert that a waterway must have a history of commercial use to be subject to the common law. Furthermore, they say Shingle Shanty Brook and the other two waterways lack such a history.
Neil Woodworth, ADK’s executive director, worked with Caffry for nearly a decade on the Adirondack League Club case, fighting for the right of paddlers to travel on navigable waterways.
“John has excellent knowledge of the law,” Woodworth said. “The two of us looked at every single precedent not only in New York, but across the country.”
In that case, the Adirondack League Club sued the Sierra Club and five paddlers who went down the South Branch of the Moose River in the western Adirondacks. It was settled before trial. The settlement allows paddlers to use the river during much of the year if water levels are high enough.