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Thread: Dalton Mtn NH - Landowner Request

  1. #1
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    Dalton Mtn NH - Landowner Request

    I was looking at the trail conditions site and saw this interesting trail report from a landowner about a "trespass" (my words not the landowner) on posted land.

    https://www.newenglandtrailcondition...?entryid=53173

    And this appears to be Phil's post https://sectionhiker.com/bushwhacking-dalton-mountain/

    I am not out to dump on anyone on this but worth discussing hikers rights and responsibilities of accessing private land. The short version is if the land is posted properly the hiker has no right unless they have the owners express permission to enter posted property. The owner has the right to say no and lack of being able to reach the landowner is not an excuse for trespass.

    My assumption is the Phil Werner referred to in the posting is the owner of SectionHiker.com (a useful resource IMHO )and Jim Dannis is presumably one of the early leaders of the Anti Northern Pass movement. The original NP route was proposed to go over his property in the Dalton area which is reportedly quite a large parcel or parcels and trespass on his property by NP surveyors was a point of contention. (Jim's daughter is Larisa Dannis was active on VFTT at one time). In general many private landowners want to keep track of who is on their property. Dalton is one of these towns that unless you want to go there you probably would have a tough time finding it as the Moore Dam Reservoir on the Connecticut River wraps around quite a bit of the town. I have posted in the past that Dalton has made the news as the possible location of a large private regional landfill. With the growth of Littleton to the south and the completion of I93 30 years ago Dalton has been a place to get large parcels of former timberland with a potential view looking south to the Franconia area on the south facing slopes of Dalton Mtn or north up the Connecticut River. .At one time the prices of bulk land was quite reasonable but as the years have passed, the price has gone up. My guess is there are few local services and correspondingly low property taxes. Looking at Google Earth, there does seem to be several large newer "estates" built to take advantage of the south view. I checked the Granit GIS viewer (via NH Stonewall mapper and selecting NH polygons layer) to see if I could figure out the property boundaries but it looks like the parcel boundaries for Dalton are not shown. Looking at the USGS map for the area the highest summit is around 3200 feet and is located on private land to the north of land identified as Forest Lake State Park. There is a lower peak shown on the state park land.

    I do not have access to Phil's GPS track that the landowner references. Looking at Google Earth and the USGS map there is a presumably newer road not shown on the USGS wrapping around to the north of the summits on Google Earth but in general it looks like the logical approach is from the Northeast over private land. Land posting rules in NH are pretty simple https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/landshare/faqs.html , 100 yards or less along every property boundary and at every gate, bars and commonly used entrance. The problem is that someone bushwhacking may not be using a gate, bar or commonly used entrance and rather may just pick the highest elevation along a road to cut into the woods. Generally land owners post far more frequently along public roads than 100 yards but that is not a legal requirement but rather a practical one. Contrary to popular belief, an owner may post their land and still be protected by NH recreation liability rules (I am not a lawyer and do not claim to be) https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/lan...liability.html. There is an optional 20% discount on property taxes on current use lands that are not posted but given the low tax rate on current use land this savings is negligible in most cases. (the taxes on my 83 acres of land in Randolph is less $50 a year under current use status, thus 20% is not a big incentive). Here is some info from the NH current use coalition The Recreational Discount is an incentive for landowners to keep their land open to others for six low-impact land uses; skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting hiking and nature observation. In exchange for agreeing to allow all six of these activities, the current use assessment is reduced by 20%. No other recreational activities must be allowed, and the landowner may post against any other uses. Participation in the Recreational Discount is optional
    I inherited very closely spaced blazing on my property from a prior owner (in most cases 50 foot or less between blazes) but in many cases blazes on property lines on timber parcels are very sparse to non existent. Generally they are not repainted until a timber operation and that may be 25 to 50 year intervals. Modern technology can geofence a parcel to be logged so there may be no need to re-blaze the line. At best blazing paint lasts 15 to 20 years and even at that point it has faded considerably. Restoring blazes on a property line can be challenge dependent on the type of growth. In open hardwoods in the winter it goes quick but in dense spruce/fir it can disappear quickly.

    From personal experience the biggest challenge is how to contact the landowner for permission?. Few folks out for a hike are going to make a scouting mission in advance to find out the status of land ownership. Not all rural towns post their tax map on line, Dalton does post their tax maps but it does not have topo and someone would need to do some jigsaw work to reassemble the parcel sub maps to get the parcel reference and then go into the town assessment database to determine ownership. Note many towns do not make the assessment data base available on line as realtors and occasionally contractors use if for "fishing" for prospects. It is public record, but the towns may require someone to make an appointment to review the lists. Not all towns list ownership contact info, generally at best there may be an address of record Many large parcels are owned by owners that are not local, therefore if the rules are followed having a name and an address on the signs is not a viable way to locate a way of contacting an owner. In some cases the landowner allows a group of hunters to post the land for the owner in exchange for the exclusive right to hunt on that land. The hunters have an incentive to keep an eye on it and the owner saves the hassle of posting.

    So my questions that would assist with context of this event are

    Did Phil knowingly enter posted land? Per his post he went up through a gate off a public road and at some point crossed a presumably unmarked boundary. Presumably if the owners wanted to restrict use, the gate would be posted. Given there is tower and dish on a summit, the assumption is if a owner did not want someone to access the site they would have posted the road.

    With respect to the landowners request, I am unsure if the harm was in the actual posting of GPS track or the lack of request for permission. That is the dicey point. It appears that Phil most likely unknowingly crossed into the owners land presumably without seeing any posting signs. This is not difficult thing to do in dense woods with snow on the trees. IMHO the landowner was more concerned with the posting of the GPS track?. For many folks so called "bushwhacking" has become follow the electronic breadcrumb using tracks they have found online and the result is herd paths becoming rapidly hardened through repetitive use. The people using the tracks they have found on the internet somehow may assume that the published track gives some level of legitimacy to the route and a landowner may discover that a default trail has been established on their land. Given the Dalton summit is in excess of 3000 feet and the popularity of what were once obscure lists becoming more popular that also may lead to increased use.

    The bummer is the owner has posted his contact info in the trail conditions report. Its useful but my experience is that those trail reports do not show up on typical web searches (by design or not) and are ephemeral at best. Phil's post notes that his policies do not allow the contact info to be posted without permission so it will be dead end.

    In the past I have asked several folks heavily involved with the more obscure lists as to their approach to approach summits on private land. Generally the answer is a shrug, a variant of don't ask, don't tell, or a variant that its on need to know basis and the common folk do not need to know. No doubt " need to know" has leaked onto private forums and probably best to stay there. IMHO, what is probably best is if in doubt keep the GPS tracks over questionable ownership out of the public domain.

    I did send a note to Phil via his website and let him know I was posting this although I am unsure if he has access to VFTT
    Last edited by peakbagger; 03-14-2021 at 12:20 PM.

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    It looks like Phil tried to apologize after being contacted by the landowner, but the landowner never got back to him. Apparently there are some Conservation easements in the area that Phil was trying to access they summit through. This seems to be more of an mistake out of ignorance and not something willfully negligent.

    I wish there was a history of "freedom to roam" in the US. Too many fences, and no trespassing signs and signs in general in our society.

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    How well was this land posted? If done properly and by State defined guidelines it should be pretty clear where one is allowed and not allowed. On the other hand publicly posting GPS tracks about a hike like this is IMO just bad etiquette. There was a time not that long ago where folks shared that kind of info via a PM. Starting your hike at a gated road posted no trespassing or not might be an indication to stay out. Do your research. The onus in this situation is on the hiker not the landowner. Why bother posting a trip report to begin afterwards. One is only stuffing oneís foot farther down their throat by doing so.
    Last edited by skiguy; 03-14-2021 at 01:49 PM.
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    I would expect that one can go to the local PD or contact F&G or other locals to learn who the landowner is. I just think most people canít be bothered and are willing to take the risk. This happens all the time with hunters. Hikers are no different. I am sure we have all trespassed before, and agree that it would seem imprudent to post a trip report and track if you are not 100% sure that your hike was legit. We wouldnít have fences and borders if people were more respectful. Unfortunately, there are simply too many inconsiderate people or people who donít do enough homework because they just want to get on with their project. I do understand both sides and as said we have probably all been there before. Doesnít make it right though.

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    Peakbagger, it is a thing over here to flee the higher property taxed surrounding towns to Dalton, I personally know 2 who did just that from Bethlehem.

    Looks like landowner is ok with guests since they maintain/allow a canister, but obviously want it to be local word of mouth and not through the internet, good for them. A trail or roadway on private property can be 'posted' for no entry or use by the owner (can be a specific use) without having to officially post an entire or portion of a property. Personally I think it is a bit burdensome to legally post your property from entry, as VT is similar and I had to do so once on 13 acres I owned to prohibit the discharge of firearms. It took more work then I could easily maintain. There are some days I really want to post my current 14 acres or build a fence to keep out marauding neighborhood dogs and kids. Some people value their land more than their houses and the silly objects we value so much inside. I'm having issues with an abutter who thinks our recently surveyed and blazed property line is a really straight hiking trail that is very well marked, not the old trail a guy had cut for her in the general vicinity that had fully obscured after she had not used it for 6 years. In trying to follow this "trail" on the easier walking on my side, they inadvertently trampled my only eastern hemlock sapling on my entire property. May not matter to some folks with a looser relationship with their land, but for some of us those woods that are so foreign are actually the living room for some people and full of personal relationships. Is it ok if I just walk into your house just because I want to?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew View Post
    Is it ok if I just walk into your house just because I want to?
    My understanding and maybe peakbagger can confirm in New Hampshire it is called crossing someone's land not trespassing if the land is not posted. Which is entirely legal. The practice goes way back. Kind of a part of that "Live Free or Die" thing. If one has issues with fire arms and or conservation issues because of crossing then posting is about the only defense. Then the whole Current Use thing comes into play not to mention Conservation Trusts. I only understand the basics of those two concepts so I will again leave it to peakbagger as he is way more competent than I on elaborating on that can of worms. Getting directly back on subject and within the incident of discussion this hiker was in violation but to his credit he apologized. Lessons learned. Personally having spent a lot of time in the South growing up and to have been fortunate to have a Grandfather whom owned large tracks of land I was exposed to different morals than what is practiced here in New England when it came to crossing. People always asked before hand to use his land. Most of it was hunting and much of that was for subsistence living. In those days and in that geographic area people helped each other much more. If a kill was made it was always shared with the Landowner. Although it is different times here in New Hampshire it seems crossing is common behavior and it is done by individuals personal will. Unfortunately even though not required by Law checking with the Land Owner before hand is not common practice. I have owned a large tract of land for 25 years which is in Current Use. It is legal to cross without speaking with me and I do receive a large Tax Break. People do hunt on this land also. Again although not required by law it is unfortunate during the time I have owned this land I have only had one person approach me to ask about crossing. No doubt in this area crossing is part of local culture but it is unfortunate folks do not show more respect as that lack of behavior leads to more and more posting and everyone looses.
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    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    Getting directly back on subject and within the incident of discussion this hiker was in violation but to his credit he apologized. Lessons learned.
    Unless Mr. Werner was being dishonest in his blog post and unless there is a law against posting GPS tracks that cross private land, he and his hiking partner violated no laws, nor did it sound like they were being disrespectful of the property owners.

    Posting GPS tracks online, regardless of whose property your on, is just poor form.

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    My non lawyer understanding is New England has land access rights that go back to English common law. My understanding is that unless posted, a member of the public can cross onto and over private land. In other parts of the country this may not be so. I lived in Wisconsin at one point and believe that the law was that you had to have permission to enter private land. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WardenWire/...%20or%20remain.

    There are also special rules with respect to access to public waters. I think the trigger if it is a navigable water way the public has the right to navigate and also the right to traverse on either side of the river up to the high water mark. This is an ongoing debate in part of the ADKS where private owners and clubs try to prevent public use of rivers by canoeists. I have also heard that fishing or "fowling" is another accepted public use.

    Most states have "squatter rights"/adverse possession/prescriptive rights rules. It varies by jurisdiction but if an individual and in some cases groups of individuals use another persons land without permission for some long period of time and the owners do not object or notice that eventually that individual or groups can gain rights to continue the trespass. Courts and legislatures can vary the scope of these rights significantly. Generally these rights only come into existence if its done without the owners consent. I have seen the term that the use is "openly and notoriously" using another's persons property. If the owner can prove that they gave notice and permission to the use the land that the "clock" resets on the use. The duration of the ongoing use is quite a long time and if its discontinued the clock could reset. Generally any rights do not come into being until a court awards them. In many cases the rights extinguish eventually if the use discontinues. One important thing to note is if the land is US government land, the rules do not apply and when the government acquires the land unless the past use is acknowledged, the rights are extinguished. This was a point of contention down south when the AT route and lands were being protected after the national trails act was passed.

    My guess is the landowner, a lawyer, with a point of public interest on his land would object to a GPS track over his private land as it potentially could lead to a squatters rights issue at some point in the future. By asking hikers to contact him, there is no adverse possession established and he can limit access to trails he built. Realistically if the owner occupies his land he really would want to know who else is using it. The fundamental problem with posting land is that it keeps the honest folks honest and those with ill intent most likely will ignore the posting. Go along any property line that has been posted and usually there is a trail of signs ripped off from trees or blasted with a rifle or shotgun. Pretty much standard in rural areas is an unwritten understanding that neighbors keep an eye out on neighbors land as long as the land is not posted, once the land gets posted that tradition is ignored.

    Note the owner of the former Tyrol ski area in the Jackson area recently posted his land due to abuse by the public and Tom Rankin has been reporting on two summits on private land in the Catskills that are closed to public use. Gaining access to private land via squatter rights is generally regarded as the "nuclear option" by most groups as the bad PR usually causes far more private land to be closed. That was the reportedly the argument for the Mt Cabot trail closure. Behind the scenes it caused AMC, USFS and other groups to scramble to obtain formal rights on trails over private land in many other parts of the WMNF. RMC has an extensive trail network on private property in Randolph including my property, reportedly the club policy is the trail is only there if the owner allows it. I expect if there was owner with objections, the club would relocate the trail or in the worst case close it.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 03-15-2021 at 02:34 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    Unless Mr. Werner was being dishonest in his blog post and unless there is a law against posting GPS tracks that cross private land, he and his hiking partner violated no laws, nor did it sound like they were being disrespectful of the property owners.

    Posting GPS tracks online, regardless of whose property your on, is just poor form.
    I agree there is no law about posting GPS info but there is for trespassing. The landowner made it clear that he wants permission granted and would do so graciously if contacted.
    Last edited by skiguy; 03-15-2021 at 02:27 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    I agree there is no law about posting GPS info but there is for trespassing. The landowner made it clear that he wants permission granted and would do so graciously if contacted.
    Someone linked to the "trip report" in the Facebook "New Hampshire 100 - 500 Highest Mountains" group. Phil responded that his route was not posted when he did it, but that it sounds like it is now and that people should contact the owner for permission in the future.

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    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    The landowner made it clear that he wants permission granted and would do so graciously if contacted.
    That was after the fact. It's great that the landowner is willing to let the public use their land, however while I hope the owner refrains from doing so, if they want people to ask permission, they should post their land. Unless it is posted or they have stumbled on this thread or the Newenglandtrailconditions report, how would a hiker know to check with the landowner?

    I neither am a lawyer nor did I stay at Holiday Inn last night, but I don't understand how bushwhacking could lead to an adverse possession claim. After all do hunters have a claim for adverse possession when they hunt on private land? It is my understanding the a landowner can post the land at any time, but I could be wrong.

    I'm with Egilbe's statement, "I wish there was a history of "freedom to roam" in the US. Too many fences, and no trespassing signs and signs in general in our society." But that only works if hikers, skiers, hunters, ATVers, and sledders, are respectful of the land and are mindful about our parking. In my view, being respectful includes not blabbing on the internet about traveling on private property.

    When I was growing up in rural Vermont, we only posted the land directly behind our house as a "Hunter Safety Zone," which didn't prohibit the public from crossing the land, and the rest of our land we didn't post even though we weren't hunters, because the traditional Vermont way was to keep your land open to hunters. Cross country ski and mountain biking trails in the '80s and '90s in southeastern Vermont were never posted. It was part of being a good neighbor.

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    That was after the fact. It's great that the landowner is willing to let the public use their land, however while I hope the owner refrains from doing so, if they want people to ask permission, they should post their land. Unless it is posted or they have stumbled on this thread or the Newenglandtrailconditions report, how would a hiker know to check with the landowner?
    The land is posted. To quote the landowner from the comment section in NewEnglandTrailConditions.com..."We are the landowners. There are two wonderful Dalton Mountain viewpoints on our posted land.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    The land is posted. To quote the landowner from the comment section in NewEnglandTrailConditions.com..."We are the landowners. There are two wonderful Dalton Mountain viewpoints on our posted land.
    Other trail reports starting at Rooney Rd (a class vi rd) like Phil did only mention seeing posting along the ridge. Even if a landowner has gated a class vi rd on their property, they can't lock or post it. Looking at tax maps and the property owner's parking request I'm assuming the offended land owner is on the other side of the mountain.

    Tax map: https://townofdalton.com/wp-content/...5/COMPOSIT.pdf

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoshandBaron View Post
    Other trail reports starting at Rooney Rd (a class vi rd) like Phil did only mention seeing posting along the ridge. Even if a landowner has gated a class vi rd on their property, they can't lock or post it. Looking at tax maps and the property owner's parking request I'm assuming the offended land owner is on the other side of the mountain.

    Tax map: https://townofdalton.com/wp-content/...5/COMPOSIT.pdf
    Can you provide a link to the Statue regarding your gating comment?
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    Quote Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
    Can you provide a link to the Statue regarding your gating comment?
    By definition, class vi roads are public ways.

    http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/...1/231-21-a.htm

    I. All such highways shall be deemed subject to gates and bars; provided, however, that any gates or bars maintained by private land owners shall be erected so as not to prevent or interfere with public use of the highway, and shall be capable of being opened and reclosed by highway users.

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