The Access Fight on Virginia’s Jackson River Threatens to Spill Over Onto Virginia’s Other Rivers
The Virginia stream access mess continues to muddy the waters (and the courts) over public access in some Virginia rivers. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a landowner’s heavy-handed attempt to drive the public off its rightful place on the river, or a state agency wholly abdicating its responsibility, leaving both landowners and anglers in the lurch.
Either way, an angler is being sued for criminal trespass (Virginia’s criminal courts declined to accept the case, so the landowners sued in civil court) for wading and fly fishing a stretch of the Jackson River — a stretch the state’s own fish & game maps say is public.
In this article, the angler Dargan Coggeshall talks about what he believes is at stake (access for fishermen) and notes that his legal bills are in the $120,000 range, a reality which could lead to other landowners simply posting their land and driving fishermen — who wouldn’t want to face $120,000 in legal bills — away.
In asking for support Coggeshall points to the crux of his argument, and that is the potential impact that a win for the plaintiffs could have for river access not only on the Jackson, but beyond.
It could lead to more lawsuits, he says, and more legal privatization of Virginia rivers.
But it also could lead to practical privatization of rivers even without landowners having to establish formal ownership of the river bottom.
Riparian landowners could simply use the term “crown grant” to intimidate river users, even if there is no validity to their claims.
If confronted by a landowner threatening to sue, what would a fisherman or paddler do?
Most would move on, unwilling to gamble that the threat was a bluff.
And when you look at Coggeshall’s legal bills, could you blame them?
Coggeshall is asking for donations to cover his legal bills (he makes $75K a year teaching disabled kids), and you can visit the Virginia Rivers Defense Fund website for more information and to support the fight.
See you in court, Tom Chandler.