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Mark Atwood
Mark's Stories. Land, and walking over it.
Today's story, like yesterday's, didn't happen to me, but was told to me by the people it happened to. Also, like yesterday's, it doesn't exactly paint "people" in a good light. This story is very important to me, and help crystalize a lot of my opinions.

Once upon a time, in a land north of where most of you live, there was a family that owned a piece of land. When they first bought it, many years before, it wasn't worth very much. It was completely unimproved and undeveloped. No utilities reached it. Nothing grew on it except trees and moss. There were no roads to it, no trails over it, no buildings on it.

This family was not "rich". They didn't have trust fund, or a well paying job. At the beginning of this story, all they owned was a truck, a camper, their clothes, and this piece of land, which as I had said, wasn't worth much and so hadn't cost much.

Over the passing decades, they built and expanded and rebuilt a house, in which they made a home for themselves and later for their children as well. They built other structures. An outhouse, and later, a septic tank and field. They built sheds, and planted gardens, in soil that they created themselves (the native soil, while rich, needed to be heavily conditioned before it would grow anything other than the trees and moss I mentioned before). They planted fruit trees. They started raising a few goats and chickens.

They brought in the utilities. Telephone and electricity. Which they had to pay dearly for. (Utility companies make people in far rural areas pay to extend the lines, and it's very expensive.)

Eventually, they got neighbors. Which was fine, for the most part. It was good to have other people close by, to talk to, and other kids for their kids to play with and grow up with.

Some of their neighbors asked if it was ok if they cut across their property to get to get to an expanse of public land, which had a river on it, so as to go hunting, and camping, and fishing, and boating. Now, there were other ways to get to that public land and river, official roads, official rights of ways, and so forth, but cutting across this piece of private property was quicker and more convenient. And the people, not seeing any harm, and desiring to be good members of their "community", gave their assent.

All was well for a couple of years, and then the neighbors they first gave the assent to, each in turn, moved elsewhere.

More people moved in, and more homes were built (tapping into the utility extentions that these people had first paid to have installed), and more and more people were taking the "shortcut". A path was being worn across the grass, which they had had to plant and coax into growing. The trees along the path were being damaged. People's pets were romping in the garden, the fruit trees were being injured, the gates to the goats were being opened. Litter was being strewn. People started riding ATVs along the path at ungodly hours of the night.

They put up signs asking people to please not damage the land. Please stay on the path. It didn't help.

Finally, they put up "no trespassing" signs. People tore down the signs. And then, they put them up again, and built a wall, and a fence, and stood guard on their own property, and started calling the police.

And they were sued, by their "neighbors". (Yes, those ARE "sneer quotes".)

And they lost.

Not only did they have to let people tramp across their land, not only did they not have any effective recourse when people vandalized and damaged in their passing, they were required to improve the trail.

This is about the time I was told this story by the property owners.

The last time I spoke with them, they were preparing to improve the trail again, under the cloud of another lawsuit, this time under the umbrella of the ADA. Apparently some of the trespassers wish to be able to cross this rough woody terrain, in wheelchairs.

All because someone was willing to be "good neighbors".

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Current Location: AlohaHaus, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA

3 comments or Leave a comment
roseembolism From: roseembolism Date: February 9th, 2007 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Access rights issues are a pretty sore spot on the West Coast as well, though the context tends to be different due to rapid overturn of property.

In Santa Barbara (my hometown) for example, there was as fuss over new owners of coastal property restricting or eliminating previous public beach access- a bit ironic, since these tend to be the same owners who tend to yell for the state to do something when erosion starts sending pieces of their expensive homes down the cliffs. The latest brew-up came when the new owner of the local paper, an East Coaster, found to her dismay that anybody could walk on the local beach below her house, and tried to take steps. I don't think that one's going to be resolved in her favor.

So there's plenty of stories on both sides of the issue- especially in California.
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: February 15th, 2007 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
In Washington, the land between the tide lines is a public way, period. The only exception are for nature and wildlife preserves, and military installations. I think that's actually US national law. Also, navigable waters are public ways, up to N dozen yard from the beach. Thus there are tourist cruises to <billg@microsoft.com>'s house, that stay just a foot or two outside the line.

However this story isn't about that sort of this. This was private land that got forcably converted into a public way, because the owners makde the mistake of being nice, instead of being hardasses.
jenevastorme From: jenevastorme Date: February 17th, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
People suck, yea verily. And the government sucks for enforcing crap like this.
3 comments or Leave a comment