Trespassers Welcome

The thing about growing up in a rural area is that one becomes accustomed to going more or less where one pleases, as long as basic rules of respect and common decency are followed. For example, walkers are expected to close gates behind them so that livestock don’t escape. Mushroomers, hunters, birders, and wildflower pickers should refrain from harvesting on private land. If you notice a hazard such as broken fencing, a fallen tree, downed livestock, or some such, it is courtesy to clear it or alert the owner of the land so that action can be taken.

Certain caution must be taken in trespassing or straying off the trail if one suspects that some local agriculture may be going on. A general good rule of thumb is not to leave the trail in state parks, not to enter heavily fenced land, not to pursue a trail which leads past aggressive dogs, and to follow your instincts. If the land feels sketchy, you leave.

However, there seems to be a new breed of landowner around here–self righteous yuppies who plaster their lands with “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Recently, some land near my father’s house was thus posted and one of the neighbors realized that it was actually deeded Coastal Access land, and must by law be made accessible to anyone who wishes to go there. The neighbors successfully sued for access, forcing the owners to open up a trail. (Which I noticed on my last trip out there was carefully boarded by fencing, forcing walkers to keep to a narrow corridor which is of course also not wheelchair accessible). I’m not a fan of this not welcome mentality, despite my general hostile attitude to tourists, yuppies, and the other scum who make my life here unbearable sometimes. When we caretook for a huge stretch of land, we had “trespassers welcome” signs, because we liked having walkers on the land.

Not only did it feel neighborly, but they often alerted us to problems, neat wildflowers growing in the woods, and other things. Our easy-going attitude about use of the land by the public was welcomed, and people never vandalized or were in other ways disrespectful to the land.

Many of the places I go to and write about are privately held, and many of them are not welcome to trespassers because they are owned by private corporations. (And some of them, such as the Georgia Pacific Land or Treasure Island, also have hazards and the company will bear liability if walkers are injured.) When I walk on private land I make a choice and a calculated risk–so far, I have never been accosted by landowners although I have done my fair share of dodging around corners to avoid detection.

On the land held by individuals, I often run into the owners who are sometimes hesitant at first but usually warm up when they realize I mean them no harm. (And also that I don’t intend to publicly post the location of their land so that they can be swarmed by the curious.) I have as much respect and love for hidden areas of the land that they do–I just don’t happen to have the funds to own a chunk of my own.

I’m also not a big fan of property ownership in general–I find it ludicrous that people claim to “own” the earth, or “have the title to” a stretch of land. If I ever pay an obscene amount of money for the privilege of being a land steward, I intend to welcome all respectful comers, because the land isn’t truly “mine” to grant or deny access to.

Sadly, my friend A had an unpleasant experience around trespassing lately. She parked her vehicle on land which, unbeknownst to her, was privately owned. Nowhere was the land posted “private: no trespassing,” nor was it fenced. She went for a stroll with her dog and returned to find her tyres slashed and a nasty note on her windshield, which had been broken. Then she had the pleasure of hiking back to a more traveled roadway in order to find a ride back to town.

When she finally got in touch with law enforcement, they blew her off, something which surprises me.

Is trespassing illegal? Sure, it’s a Class C Misdemeanor. Generally, however, it is recommended that land-owners verbally (or in writing) notify people who are trespassing, especially if the land is poorly posted. (For example, you can access privately held land through public lands, and not realized that you have strayed over the border if the private land isn’t posted or fenced where you crossed over.) Trespassing, in short, involves knowing action. Landowners are expected to clearly post their property, and trespassers will not be prosecuted, usually, if they leave upon request and have not “interfered with” the property in some way.

Those who knowingly trespass can be prosecuted, and those who damage property can as well. Vandals should be prosecuted, because they ruin the fun for the rest of us.

But vandalism to the property of the trespasser is not, to my knowledge, legal. It’s one thing to tow a vehicle and leave a note saying “you trespassed, you were towed.” It would make the landowner kind of an asshole to do it without warning, but it’s not unreasonable and is well within legal limits. However, slashing tyres and shooting out windshields is not legal. Nor is it courteous, responsible, or sane. I hope that the local law enforcement gets their act together and goes after this person, because ou needs to learn that there are more logical ways of dealing with trespassers.

Especially since I’m getting a strong urge to go poop on ou’s porch right now.

Furthermore, such an aggressive reaction to trespassers is usually a strong indication that something illegal (such as marijuana growing or meth manufacture) is going on. Wouldn’t it behoove the sheriff to drive out and take a look? Maybe the landowner is just a grumpy asshole…or maybe the sheriff is about to make a big bust.