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Virginia Paddling Rights Clarified – Respect for Landowners Vital

Posted: 09/03/2015
by Kevin Colburn

Earlier this year the Virginia Marine Resources Commission confirmed that they consider Johns Creek and several other whitewater streams navigable and public.  This determination is based on their policy of assuming streams of sufficient size are navigable unless proven otherwise. This is a common sense approach that respects the rights of citizens that own property adjacent to rivers, as well those who wish to rightfully enjoy those public rivers and streams.

Newspapers have reported that local law enforcement recognize that paddlers floating the highlighted streams should not be prosecuted for criminal trespass based on the recently clarified Virginia policy. Social media has lit up with justified enthusiasm for restored paddling opportunities on Johns Creek especially. To help ensure paddlers have a safe and legal access option at Johns Creek, American Whitewater staff joined 16 volunteers last month to restore our river access site on the creek to good condition. With this said, the situation remains sensitive.

Landowners may still choose to litigate this issue or seek other means of curtailing paddling, and such actions could have legal ramifications for individuals who paddle the streams. Representatives of the paddling community are seeking meetings with Johns Creek landowners seeking an understanding that meets landowner interests as well as the public interest in paddling. If you choose to paddle Johns Creek, please do your part to protect the right to navigate the stream. We are recommending the following until more clarification can happen:       

1.     All of the land surrounding Johns Creek is private land. If you run the creek, stay in your boat if at all possible. Do not get out to rest, eat, take photos, drain your boat, hang out, etc. Avoid portaging, swimming, or setting safety if safely possible, but if you must do these things stay in the water / river. Absolutely do not fish. Assume you are being watched or video-taped, and that you could be prosecuted for utilizing the shore. Respect private property rights and landowners.

2.     Be discrete, quiet, and respectful at all times on the water, at access areas, in town, and even online, no matter what the situation. We want to be good neighbors and community members. Patronize local businesses.

3.     Only use the put-in at the 311 bridge and the American Whitewater take-out, unless you obtain specific permission to go elsewhere. Day-use only please, and only change clothes in the changing room in the woods of our site. Drive and park responsibly and respectfully. 

4.     Like a first descent, it is best if the first few people to paddle Johns Creek subsequently take a few more people down, who then take a few more people down, and so on in an organic manner. The lines are largely forgotten and the wood situation is unknown. A large amount of use on a single day early in the process would be counterproductive. Consider waiting.  

We are excited that Virginia policies on river paddling have been clarified in a way that supports responsible public use of public waters, while honoring landowners’ valid rights.  We look forward to working with Virginians to make this an extremely positive step forward for health, quality of life, and economies in mountain communities.