BREVARD, N.C. -- A landowner who barred five kayakers from floating a river through his property has landed in the middle of an ongoing nationwide feud over river rights between landowners and recreational users. Bill McNeely was slapped with a federal lawsuit by two river users groups which say he blocked access to a quarter mile of the Horsepasture River in Transylvania County.
The American Canoe Association and American Whitewater Affiliation have asked a federal judge in Asheville to order McNeely to stop posting ``No Trespassing'' signs. They also claim he hired a security guard to keep people from swimming and boating in the river near Brevard.
David Jenkins of the canoe association said McNeely summoned a Transylvania County deputy when Jenkins and four other kayakers floated down the Horsepasture. The deputy cited them for trespassing, Jenkins said.
In 1986, Congress designated four miles of the river a National Wild and Scenic River. McNeely contends that because he owns 40 acres along the first- quarter-mile of the river, he also owns the river bed.
Variations on the clash between McNeely and the river users groups are being played out around the nation. Environmentalists and landowners have battled for years over public access vs. private property rights, but the dispute now has engulfed canoeists, kayakers, fishermen and developers as well. American Whitewater, a Maryland-based recreational river users group, is working on hundreds of river access cases, with more cropping up all the time.
Laws and court decisions often hinge on narrow issues: whether a river is navigable; whether a stream that stays within one state's border is subject to federal jurisdiction. In the case of McNeely and the Horsepasture River, the landowner has made navigability an issue.
``The Horsepasture is not navigable,'' McNeely said. ``In 4 1/2 miles that river falls 1,900 feet in elevation. The Horsepasture this high is just a big creek. I don't know where they're coming from.''
McNeely said he bought the 40 acres last spring and has stopped partying and littering at a popular water-sliding area and reseeded the river banks. Below McNeely's property, the river flows through land owned by the U.S. Forest Service and Duke Power Co. before spilling into Lake Jocassee in South Carolina.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage