As a surfer in the Santa Barbara area back in the good ol’ days, I often wanted to surf the uncrowded stretch of coastline to the north known as the Hollister/Bixby Ranch. The Ranch is all privately held coastline of very exclusive (expensive) 100+ acre parcels. Access to the area is via a single road, and that road is (was) gated and well guarded. Way back when it was actually a bit easier to sneak in and out, (and I was a bit of a rebel) a buddy and I would load up a backpack, grab our boards, and walk in well before it got light, following the railroad tracks and sneaking past the guard stand. Later in life (and when I had access to a boat), we’d simply boat in.
Now as long as we stayed “in the water” (below the mean high tide line) we weren’t considered “trespassing” and had no worries. Otherwise, you’d crossed a line and could (and would) be “arrested” and hauled out. The property owners are not without monetary resources for legal fees, and you can believe me when I tell you that they would (will) prosecute any infraction to the fullest extent of the law.
Now that was an ocean, not a stream or lake, but it was my first real experience with the private water issue, and the only one that I truly have some personal experience with. So I bring it up here as some “context” for my comments, and because I think the principle is the same.
I am no longer a rebellious teenager, and the fact that I have actually become a property owner (no I do not own Ranch property, nor even any water front property) I have a broader perspective on the “private water” issue than I once did. In fact, I truly have empathy for both sides of the private water issue.
On the one hand, I want to have the access to a public resource, and I appreciate the fact that the resource exists (and thrives) by the management of it. This management of a water resource is certainly accomplished by more than a single property owner, and is often (if not always) at least partially subsidized by public funds. So as part of that public, my money is supporting that resource, and if I’m paying for it, I should be able to use it! Free access becomes my mantra, and I can defend that point pretty vehemently.
But if I put myself in the position of those property owners… Just because I have a “public” stream (or ocean) running through (or along) my property, shouldn’t give the public the right to access it at will, nor cross my property to do so. (Let alone leave their garbage, etc.) So whatever is my personal property, I feel I should be able to control who’s allowed to be on it and who isn’t (if anyone).
To my way of thinking, those two perspectives seem to be able to coexist as long as a clear line of demarkation exists between what is “public” and what is “private”. But as soon as that line becomes fuzzy, things go south for me in a hurry.
For example, I’ve heard that in some areas the “water” is public, but the actual stream bed is private. So floating the body of water is perfectly legal, but wading it isn’t. Huh? So if the body of water rises, and even floods the property owner’s home, as long as I’m just cruising around in my kayak I can check out the living room? No offense here if you are an attorney, but how they got to that “line of demarkation” sure smacks of legal wrangling to me, and common sense went out the window somewhere along the way.
For me a line is a line, and I’ve come to learn that a line doesn’t have to be painted to truly exist. If I cross private property without permission to do so, I’ve crossed a line that I shouldn’t have, irregardless of how much I desire to do so, or because of any sense of “entitlement” I might feel toward the resource I was trying to reach in the process.
I may not like it, and I may even completely disagree with it being the case. But until the property becomes a public access point, or I’ve been given permission to “cross the line” by the property owner, I for one will respect their right to do with it as they may, and would hope that others will afford me the same respect if (when) I ever do own a little piece of heaven on earth.