Rivanna Trail vs. Land Owner

The Rivanna Trails Foundation is bumping heads with a landowner Shirley Presley. Presley doesn’t want people walking across her property, the edge of which has been used for the Rivanna trail, which forms a loop around the city. The non-profit Rivanna Trails Foundation may need to purchase a right of way, but they’re not sure that they can afford to set that precedent. Presley has erected a barrier to prevent people from crossing her land, so the RTF has set up a temporary detour. Courtney Stuart has the story in this week’s Hook.

36 thoughts on “Rivanna Trail vs. Land Owner”

  1. Seems pretty cut and dried to me. It’s Ms Presley’s property, and she doesn’t want people walking through it. Her motivations would seem to be irrelevant here. Can’t deny her the right to allow access and use as she sees fit, which is definitely one of our most closely-held property rights. Walking across her private property certainly doesn’t seem to be some sort of public accommodation.

    This puts a new and exciting spin on the whole NIMBY thing, doesn’t it?

  2. Mrs. Presley and the Potters are neighbors of mine, and this disagreement has caused a surprising amount of animosity in our neighborhood.

    On the one hand, we’ve got a little old lady who has had people vandalize her yard, and has decided if this is the way people are going to be, then she’s not going to let people on her property. Even if it means that “innocent” trail users are also penalized.

    On the other hand, we’ve got members of our neighborhood (not to mention users of the trails) who have strong ties to the RTF, or simply enjoy the trails, who have decided that this little old lady is just being evil to spite people. They’ve resorted to name calling, public criticism, and just plain illegal tresspassing to show her how upset they are. The illegal tresspassing occurs when they sneak out behind her house to tear down the barriers… while their cause is understandable, their methods really aren’t right (or legal).

    What we lack is a hand that smacks the both of ’em and gets them to sit down and talk like adults instead of hurling insults and generally acting like first graders.

    What Mrs. Presley needs is someone to sympathize with her, extend the offer of the $1,000,000 liability insurance, let her know that we’ll all collectively keep an eye out for any vandalism of her property, and pitch in to clean it up should it happen, and, in short, mollify her.

    Calling a nice little old lady names, and further vandalizing her property will not get you what you want, especially when what you want is for her to be nice to you and allow you to continue using her property, which you never asked if you could use in the first place.

    The RTF is absolutely right that it can’t really afford the precedent of buying the easement, because then others will follow suit. I’d say they just need to work on their people skills.

    Of course, by this point, she might just be so thoroughly pissed off that there is no way to regain that lost ground.

  3. A couple of things strike me about this particular item.

    First, I was displeased with the tone of the article in The Hook (which I generally find at least inoffensive). The writer seemed to imply through word choice and the way in which the article was organized that Ms. Presley is perpetrating some sort of misdeed upon the people of this region. After finishing the article we finally learn that Ms. Presley wants people to stop coming onto her land because of the way it was abused. It would have been nice to see a more evenhanded article as the issue is fascinating.

    Second and far more importantly, is the property rights issue. Essentially, there’s nothing to be done unless Ms. Presley can somehow be convinced to donate (or effectively donate) a portion of her land to the trail. Is there any reason demonstrated why she should do this? From what I read in the article and in the excellent post by lafe she doesn’t now have any reason to think the land will be well cared for by anyone but herself. The idea that because someone wants to walk/hike in nature gives them the right to use someone else’s land is absurd. Its equally absurd to villify a person who asserts their property rights.

    • blame the RTF? It is unfortunate that this has happened. The users of the trail should not be put in this position.
    • The trail is one of the jewels of Charlottesville.
    • This is private property vs community use… Ultimately, why does this one person get to deny all the rest of us the use of this trail?
    • Could she have handled this better?
  4. 1.Why not blame the RTF, they never got needed permissions

    2. It’s seems that some of the jewels in the crown don’t belong to c-ville.

    3. Because it’s her legal property. If I camp on your property while your on vacaton do I get to stay there when you get home?

    4.Why should SHE have to have to do anything to enjoy property that see bought and pays PROPERTY TAXES every year.

    If everyone wants to help solve this why doesn’t the RTF pay for the property taxes of the land that they use but refuse to pay for. Why should any landowner be forced to pay taxes on any property that another has taken as their own.

    If the RTF doesn’t go groveling to this woman then they just a bunch of hiking boot wearing thugs that some how believe that they endowed with the right to do what ever they think is best. Shame on them!

  5. Typical of Hawes to take an otherwise cut-and-dried issue (she owns the land, too bad for the hikers) and turn it into an attack on an old lady. You can change the name of the paper, but you can’t change the scumbag who’s in charge of it.

    I’m glad this lady is fighting for her rights as a property owner.

  6. * blame the RTF? It is unfortunate that this has happened. The users of the trail should not be put in this position.

    Yes. Blame the RTF. They admitted that they never even asked her if they could use her property. It was an “oversight”. It is the RTF that has put the users of the trail in this position. They didn’t do all that was required of them to lay a trail through there.

    What John Potter said is indeed true, that the trail is almost invisible from the houses themselves, and Mrs. Presley (and Mr. Presley, before he passed away) accepted with that for years. Mrs. Presley, however, doesn’t stay inside her house. She spends a lot of time actively gardening and caring for her yard, including stretches of it from which the trail is quite visible, and was quite upset to find that area of her yard vandalized, again.

    * The trail is one of the jewels of Charlottesville.

    Agreed. I very much like the trail.

    * This is private property vs community use… Ultimately, why does this one person get to deny all the rest of us the use of this trail?

    Since when is community use supposed to trump private property ownership? I’ve got news for you, the USA is not a communism. It’s her property. She gets to say who goes on it, and who doesn’t. This is part of those freedoms that Americans have fought and died for.

    * Could she have handled this better?

    Probably so. I think the better question is “Could the RTF have handled this better?” They need to be hat-in-hand asking her forgiveness and asking what they can do to make it right, not trying to bully a little old lady out of her rights[1].

    As ccbweb mentioned, the article was definitely slanted towards making this lady look like a grinch. She’s not a grinch. Nor are the Potters evil communists. They’re just neighbors who landed on opposite sides of an issue.

    The people I really have a problem with are the trail users who were “previously peaceful” and now are taking matters into their own hands. I think more than a few of them need some education about property rights, and I think the people tearing the barriers down should have a nice talk with the city police. In any case, these people are only making the whole situation worse, and further cementing Mrs. Presley’s position.

    I also have a problem with the way the RTF has handled this, though they are an organization that I otherwise support. I sincerely hope that they find a way to make up with Mrs. Presley. I do, after all, like the trail.


    [1] As far as I know, the RTF themselves have never actually bullied this lady, it has only been others that are mistakenly acting in their stead. Also as far as I know, the RTF has not made any true attempt to make up for their “oversight”.

  7. It would seem to me that having immediate access to this trail system would increase the value of her property. Instead of having a small plot of land behind her house, she effectively has 20 miles worth of trail! Plus, on her land itself, she has people coming and doing trail maintenance for free! Free landscaping! Before RTF, she had people trespassing on her land, but she had nobody to complain to when they did damage. Also, she had no liability insurance against people getting hurt out there, which she could now obtain through RTF.

  8. Unless the public acquired a prescriptive easement through years of habitual use (any property lawyers out there who can tell us if this is likely?), Ms. Presley has the right to exclude people from her property. To persuade her to permit hikers to cross her land, the RTF or the City could (1) pay for an easement (that is, a legal right to use the trail) (2) ask Ms. Presley to donate an easement, perhaps in exchange for a promise to maintain the trail, fix any damage, and provide liability insurance or (3) ask her to grant permission for the public to use her land, with the undertanding that she can revoke it at any time should vandalism and misbehavior continue. The worst outcome is that she is harangued by The Hook and sundry neighbors, so that all area property owners become wary of tolerating any trespassers, out of fear that allowing the public on their land creates expectations that the generosity will continue.

  9. This is one of the smartest posts I’ve seen on cvillenews (and there have been many good posts). It gets to the heart of so many modern conflicts, which often arise from poor people and communication skills. It reminds me of those studies that find that people who are engaged in civil litigation would often be satisfied with an apology rather than the money they’re seeking.

  10. Access to the trail could increase or decrease property values, depending on the conduct of trail users. Many property owners have opposed “Rails to Trails” projects on the grounds that criminals would have easy access to their houses and that members of the public would stray from the trail and damage their land. But other property owners are eager to have trails across their land. If RTF volunteers and the City patrol the trail to discourage bad behavior, landowners should be pleased. But it sounds as if Ms. Presley has reasonable objections.

  11. Why are you sure that if the RTF pays Ms. Presley other landowners will demand money? It seems to me that most landowners are generous, and support the trail. Everyone understands that the RTF cannot pay all landowners, but can pay a small number of landowners. I’d be happy to donate $$ to compensate Ms. Presley.

  12. It’s true that one could view the trail system as a bonus to Mrs. Presley. The question is whether or not any of the parties involved–the RTF, interested hikers, The Hook–is making any effort to present the matter to her in this light or if they’re just demonizing her, telling her she’s mean and selfish.

    There’s this thing in business writing called “you-attitude”–if you want to get people to do a certain thing, you have to pitch to their own interests. You have to focus on the benefits that accrue to that person, not on what you yourself want. So instead of “you’re not letting us hike!” you’ve just got to say “here’s how it will benefit you to let us hike.”

  13. You know, demonizing the RTF is just about as bad as demonizing this apparently nice little old lady (according to Lafe, whom I’m willing to believe). The RTF definitely screwed up–I was pretty stunned when I heard of their “oversight,” because it seems to me that getting permission from property owners would be the most obvious first move in this project, but maybe that’s the advantage of hindsight on my part.

    But if you really want to solve the problem, it’s no good to call them the “lawbreaking RTF,” to say “blame the RTF,” to say they should grovel, shame on them, they’re thugs, etc. As rhetorical strategies, these suck as bad at the ones used by folks who are demonizing Mrs. Presley.

  14. Lafe wrote, “Since when is community use supposed to trump private property ownership? I’ve got news for you, the USA is not a communism. It’s her property. She gets to say who goes on it, and who doesn’t. This is part of those freedoms that Americans have fought and died for.”

    Americans have fought and died to preserve a lot of things, but private property ownership is not one of them (at least not since the Revolutionary War, and that one was fought to secure private property rights for a few white men). Which wars since the Rev have been been responding to a threat to the average American’s private property rights? Hmm, not Civil (indeed, fought to take away Southerner’s right to hold human beings as private property, and rightly so, of course). WWI and WWII? Fought for good reasons, I would acknowledge, but not for our freedom to keep people off our land.

    Korean and Vietnam police actions? Gulf War? I mean, I hate to sound cynical, but these wars were all fought to preserve the privileges of the people in power.

    My 2 cents. (since when does the modern keyboard no longer offer a cents symbol?!?)

  15. This is part of those freedoms that Americans have fought and died for.

    I was not trying to say that we’ve fought specifically for the right to private property, but that the right to private property is part of the rights that Americans have fought and died for.

    It’s in the Constitution, and the amendments thereof.

  16. Just call me cynical.

    From my own personal experiences with human nature, I believe that if the RTF starts paying people for the right to use their land, that more people, especially those in areas where the trail has yet to be put through, will demand payment as well.

  17. I Beg your pardon, but you have a lot to learn about property.

    Property and freedom are so deeply intertwined that we don’t even notice the relationship most of the time. We take property rights for granted and until very recently, even economists had not really examined their impact. Thus it was that Marx was willing to toss property rights out the door without considering what would go with them.

    Our economy and society work because (among other things) we have an agreed, consistant system of determining whose stuff is whose. If someone can lose their rights to their land because others have become accustomed to trespassing on it, then that land ceases to have real value.

    Look at it this way- if you were looking to buy a house in Charlottesville, caring nothing about hiking, would you want to buy Mrs. Presley’s property under those conditions? No way. Because title to the property would be in question. It would be unclear what you were buying. What if Mrs. Presley wants to get a mortgage? If what amount to squatters can challenge the right to that title, then that would not be a loan that any bank would make. In short, the land would cease to function as capital. Did you know that the majority of small businesses in America are started by taking out home mortgages? Take away property rights and an enormous chunk of the American economy goes down the tube.

    Property rights are what allow us to create. You have stuff and we all agree that generally speaking you can create things with it and own the fruit of that creation. If you don’t have the right to own anything, then the incentive and power to create are diminished. Without property rights, your freedom consists of shouting into the wind.

    PS: As an aside, I disagree with your characterization of the Vietnam war. That war was fought against the spread of communism- in other words to maintain capitalism and property rights. We didn’t give a rat’s ass about the privileges of the Vietnamese in power. That was a war very much about the idea of property rights, when you think about it.

  18. Unless the public acquired a prescriptive easement through years of habitual use (any property lawyers out there who can tell us if this is likely?), Ms. Presley has the right to exclude people from her property.

    Getting a prescriptive easement through years of habitual use would have a worse effect on the RTF than having to completely re-route the trail around our neighborhood.

    If such a thing could/did happen, I believe that no (or at the most, very few) new trails would be laid. I can’t imagine any property owner being willing to dilute their property rights to such an extent. “You mean if I let you put a trail in here, there’s a chance I’ll never get that land back?”

    You’ve made an excellent point.

  19. Pssst- here’s a solution- move that section of trail closer to the river.

    Nobody is allowed to own a river. All navigable waterways in the U.S. (which basically means anything you can float a canoe down) are owned by the public and the Federal government allows state governments to hold them in trust. According to Federal law, individuals can only own land up to the ‘ordinary highwater mark.’

    This means that the highest level that the water rises to in a typical year (hundred year floods don’t count) *is* the property boundary. Which provides a nice little strip of land on either side of the river that is accessable to the public for most of the year.

    You cannot legally be ordered off of that bit of land. The trouble with building a trail there is that it will get flooded once a year. But it’s still better than nothing if you’ve got to route the trail around private property.

  20. this quote just kills me…

    “I walked by this thing, and it just steamed me,” said the perpetrator. Learning that the barricade had been put up by a property owner, the woman exploded in fury.

    “I’m from California, and I believe in freedom,” said the woman. “No one has the right to do this.”

    i’d like to find out where this lady lives and see if she’d appreciate me crashing on her couch and eating all her food for a couple of days.

  21. This issue is cut and dry for any common-sensed individual.

    There’s no such thing as an “oversight” like this. It’s like trying to open a hamburger stand but not ordering steak patties and bread buns, yet still collecting money from hungry customers.

    What I can see is that the RTF is fostering the bullying support of thugs who are trying to terrorize a little old lady. The police should definitely get involved, organize a stakeout and jail a dozen of these thugs.

    BTW, I love trails but I would *never* feel comfortable getting to one through an individual’s private property without permission.

    BTW #2, why don’t these thugs pick on something their size? How about rallying against City Hall who thinks public toilets are a waste of public money? Why? Because they are cowards, that’s why!

  22. I think this is a legitimate avenue to pursue. Is it feasible from an engineering standpoint at that point in the trail, though? I seem to remember that it is an extremely steep bank right there.

  23. this person is clearly an idiot. but i think the hook did the issue a disservice by focusing on her. surely not all the users of the path are like this woman. i’d like to think that there are cooler heads involved–people who are actually interested in cooperating so that everyone ends up happy, instead of this polarized good-vs-evil approach that so many people seem to revert to automatically.

  24. Once you pay one person, you have created an inequitable situation for everyone else who didn’t get paid. Even if the current people shrug it off, property changes hands and sooner or later it will be a problem.

  25. >There’s no such thing as an “oversight” like >this.

    Are you saying the RTF people are misrepresenting their intent?

    >It’s like trying to open a hamburger stand but >not ordering steak patties and bread buns, yet >still collecting money from hungry customers.

    How is it like that? They aren’t charging admission.

    >BTW #2, why don’t these thugs pick on something >their size? How about rallying against City Hall >who thinks public toilets are a waste of public >money? Why? Because they are cowards, that’s >why!

    What do public toilets have to do with this?

  26. I haven’t seen that section of trail, so I don’t know about the engineering. If it is steep, it may still be possible to cut a trail in there, though it would be hard work and not the safest of trails. Probably best for cyclists to walk their bikes through that bit rather than ride straight through.

    What you need is some Boy Scouts to have a look at it. There must be some enterprising kid out there looking for a project like that to earn his Eagle scout badge.

  27. They seem to have a funny idea of freedom in California. A definition of freedom that supports only the whims of the many over the rights of the few.

    I’ll take the Virginia notion of freedom over California Communism any day of the week.

  28. If you notice this post responds to the one above it. It was reflective of previous post that blamed the only innocent in this entire affair, Mrs. Presley. You cannot say that some of the behaviors toward Mrs. Presley were other then thugish. If a friend comes to my house and borrows my car but forgets to ask to use it, they have still broken the law. How I treat the incident is up to me and the behavior of my friend.

    The biggest difference between the two parties is that RTF broke the faith and the laws. Mrs. Presley has done nothing illegal. Just because peolpe care for the woods doesn’t mean they can’t and haven’t done wrong. IMHO the RTF must make amends for their lack of oversite and becoming the reason this has become a problem.

  29. >>Are you saying the RTF people are misrepresenting their intent?>How is it like that? They aren’t charging admission.>What do public toilets have to do with this?<< Plenty. Several persons are inflicting at the very least psychological anguish to an old lady and a rightful property owner to further an alleged “public” goal, yet those who should be exposed for the “public good” (i.e. City Hall) are left untouched because it would require much more bravery to be forthcoming in that battle.

  30. ->Are you saying the RTF people are misrepresenting their intent?<- No, I have no idea what their “intent” is. I’d have to be an investigator or perhaps a Tarot reader to know that ;-) What this does mean, however, is that there’s more to it than simple “oversight”. Is it incompetence? Is it malicious intent? Whatever it is, one of the RTF’s primary functions is being mismanaged.

  31. ->How is it like that? They aren’t charging admission.<- The simile I offered was one of ridiculing the primary service an entity may not provide. As in: What does a hamburger stand entrepreneur do? He sells hamburgers in exchange for money. If he collects money yet fails to deliver hamburgers, then he’s a thief. The RTF is similar in that it is evading one of its primary functions, which is to facilitate trails by interacting ethically with land owners. And like the thieving hamburger stand owner, the RTF has insidiously promoted a trail that is as of yet unsuitable because it involves trespassing and ignoring the wishes of a land-owner on its path.

  32. On the liability issue…she doesn’t need liability insurance if she’s not part of the trail because anyone on her land its trespassing and she wouldn’t be liable if they injured themselves. the liability insurance protects her when she voluntarily allows/invites people onto her property.

    and from what was written in the hook, she’s had to do a lot of cleanup herself.

  33. it’s simple. the RTF screwed up by not getting the landowner’s permission to put a trail through her property. personally, i think it’s a gross oversight, given the fact that the landowner has liability if someone is injured on her property. not to mention the nasty habit some public agencies have of stealing property from people under the guise that it was “donated”. what if the RTF improves that section of land, and five years from now tries to claim it as their own because they’ve maintained it for so long? it sucks that people can’t use that part of the trail anymore, but it’s not like there’s a shortage of places to hike in central VA. get over it.

    now, if they’d put in a monorail…

  34. The entire cold war- over 50 years of American history- was fought to preserve private property ownership.

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