Who Owns the Jackson River?



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Who Owns What?

If River's Edge owns the bottom and the water that flows through the property, then they own the pollution too. VDEQ should immediately monitor the Jackson below the River's Edge property and if the water quality is out of attainment in any way, a fine should obviously be levied upon River's Edge, since they failed to clean "their" water before dumping it on someone else's "property" (riverbed) downstream. This case is total lunacy, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

River Mud more than 11 years ago

"Rivers and the Public Trust Doctrine"

>The U.S. Supreme Court has held that rivers have been public since ancient times, in all civilized societies. Classical Roman law held that “running water” is “common to mankind.” It held that “all rivers and ports are public, hence the right of fishing in a port, or in rivers, is common to all men.” It held that this is one of the “Laws of Nature,” which are “established by divine providence,” and which “remain forever fixed and immutable.” It recognized public rights to use the banks as well as the surface of the water, on non-navigable as well as navigable rivers. This was based in turn on the laws of Greece and other ancient civilizations.

These principles continued into the law of the emerging European nations. In England, some rivers and their banks were fenced off by the medieval Saxon and Norman kings, for private use by the kings and noblemen, but public rights to fish and boat were reaffirmed by Magna Charta in 1215. A major legal treatise in 1250, again citing the Laws of Nature, said that “running water” is “common to all,” and “all rivers and ports are public, hence, the right of fishing in a port or in rivers is common. < http://www.nationalrivers.org/us-law-public.htm

Mary Agnes Johnson more than 11 years ago

Jackson River

Thanks for the article! This is an extremely important issue, we need to stand against people and groups that try to privatize public resources. The Jackson River is one of Virginia's greatest public resources... and after all we are a Commonwealth! I really hope this topic makes it into a future print issue.Thanks.

Jason more than 11 years ago

swimming !

My name is Ben. I'm in the 3rd grade and I love to swim. I think that people should be allowed to swim in rivers. If they can sue him they can sue me. I like to look at fish through my goggles. In conclusion, I do not think that they should be sueing him. The End

Ben more than 11 years ago


Great article Beau!
What is VA (and its residents) coming to...... Can we look forward to being limited on where we can take our kids to the Chesapeake Bay to crab next?

Terra Pascarosa more than 11 years ago

Jackson River Article

I see that this is only printed online which is a shame because this issue affects many landowners and river users in the state and they need to know.

That being said, thank you Virginia Living for having the guts to cover this online. Well written, objective article too.

Hope you consider printing next month or having a follow-up.
-Shenandoah Riverkeeper

Jeff Kelble more than 11 years ago

Who owns the Jackson?

North/South Development may have a valid claim to the river bottom on property conveyed by royal grant. However, since they do not own the water or the marine life entering or exiting their property via the flowing waters, they have no right to prohibit travel through said property by said flowing water or to prohibit fishing for said marine life while traveling across the river bottom via said flowing water. Especially if the fisherman is the bearer of a valid license issued by the Commonwealth.

Tripp Little more than 11 years ago

Come on you can do better than this

Its a shame this didn't make it to print. There are a lot of Virginians that have know idea this is even going on. You need to do a print version to make sure this reaches out to all who subscribe to the magazine. This case does not only affect fisherman it affects all who enjoys the outdoors. Virginians need to know.

Matt Miles more than 11 years ago

Write the AG!

I think Coggeshall should start an online petition - MoveOn provides the services for free I think, to demand that the VA Attorney General get involved to defend the public access. If you make it an issue, the AG will intervene. Thanks to Beau Beasley for getting this information out there!

KRC more than 11 years ago

great coverage of a vital virginia issue !

I'm impressed with Virginia Living's coverage of riverbottom ownership.

Understanding Virginia's history and the rights of citizen access and fair use our forebears granted to the citizens of the commonwealth is important.

When this issue appears in print it will pair nicely with your piece on wild and scenic rivers. Clearly piecemeal attempts at privatization through civil suits serves nobody well. Publishing this piece may help attract Richmond's attention. Thanks !

Richard Brantley more than 11 years ago

Applause & Request

I applaud Virginia Living for acknowledging this issue, and for allowing some light to be shed upon its potentially very significant consequences for all Virginians. Barring public accessibility to waters of the Commonwealth would create an uncommon wealth -- a river owned by and accessible to the very few. Why would Virginians care for and value streams and rivers from which they are excluded by law?

I share the sentiment of others' comments suggesting that the opportunity to communicate this timely, relevant information with your print audience has been lost -- but not for good. This misfortune can easily be rectified by the editors of Virginia Living through providing a print feature on the topic in your upcoming issue.

Pat Calvert
Upper James Riverkeeper
James River Association

Pat Calvert more than 11 years ago


Thanks for publishing this online... please include in print version.

Austin Cox more than 11 years ago

No print?

It is huge that you published this online and I thank you for it. But this is such a critical issue with massive ripple effects, it should really be in the print version reach the largest audience.

The real beef is between the landowner and the Commonwealth - not with the anglers who were properly licensed and fishing on a section of river explicitly advertised as public. By not including this in the print edition, the message of the failure of the Attorney General to defend our common property does not reach the broader population.

And if the landowner thinks he has a Kings Grant? Well, he should follow the established process to obtain recognition of that Grant and then post the river if it is upheld... not by suing two poor souls in an attempt to make an end run around the system. By the time all the lawyers are paid, it will probably cost the landowner more via the civil suit. I certainly hope there is an opportunity for the anglers to counter sue and recover their costs plus damages if they win.

If the grant is valid, everyone will respect it since that is settled law (whether you agree or not). But... until it is proved, our Government has the obligation to protect public access.

We are in for some interesting town hall meetings when the race for Governor kicks off. Sportsmen should get ready to challenge the Attorney General's failure to defend our citizens and public access.

Steve Moore more than 11 years ago

Still Waiting!

I submitted a letter on this topic in early August to the Editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch. Unfortunately, it was never published. The letter went as follows:

Dear Editor:

A civil suit in Alleghany County could set a precedent that allows landowners to usurp the state’s ownership of miles and miles of rivers across the state. The case involves a golf course developer who wants to privatize four miles of the Jackson River.

The developer says he has centuries’ old Kings’ Grants giving him ownership of the river bottom and is suing two anglers for trespass. Yet, under a state statue, the beds of all streams belong to the state so that the public can use those streams for fishing, hunting, and other activities. The state, however, refuses to step into the fray.

Virginians who enjoy our rivers stand to lose if the developer wins and establishes a precedent that will allow other landowners to post river bottoms passing through their property. Kayakers, canoeists, hunters, swimmers, tubers, and anglers could all face similar suits on other waters even though the state has said they are public.

One would think that the state, which through the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries promotes use of the Jackson River through the disputed area, would protect its interests and the interests of its citizens.

That is far from the case. The Attorney General’s office has stated in regard to the case: “The Commonwealth of Virginia generally does not intervene in disputes between private parties.” The Attorney General misses the point: this is a dispute between private citizens over whether the state of Virginia owns the bed of the stream.

Because the attorney general refuses to step up, the two anglers are going it alone, footing the hefty legal bills to defend not just themselves but all Virginians.

Everyone who enjoys Virginia’s rivers should contact their representatives, the governor and the attorney general’s office and demand that they protect your rights.

To learn more about the Jackson River dispute, please visit http:// www.virginiariversdefensefund.org

Ken Eastwood
President, Fly Fishers of Virginia

The Fly Fishers of Virginia’s board unanimously agreed to support the anglers being sued and to send some of its club funds to the Virginia Rivers Defense Fund to support their legal costs. In addition to the above letter, I sent similar letters to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Senator Warner, Senator Webb and Representative Eric Cantor expressing concern and asking them to get involved in this issue. No response since they were sent…seven months ago. You can also help by writing these government officials, and you can also send a check to The Virginia Rivers Defense Fund.

Ken Eastwood

Ken Eastwood more than 11 years ago

A Gutless Omission

Why would such a profound public question, involving two miles of supposedly accessible trout water, be omitted from the print version and buried in an on-line version of Virginia Living? And why won't the state get involved and back up its published maps? The public deserves to hear more about this case. Bravo to Mr. Beasley for his research and article. Let's hope that Virginia Living finds a spine and keeps the public fully informed via all media possible.

Jerry Benson more than 11 years ago


It's amazing that this would make the online edition but not the print version. This case has dire ramifications for all who fish in Virginia, not just those who read the online version. Not to be included in an issue with the headline of "On the Fly"??? This is on the minds and lips of a lot of fly fishers in the state and is a key issue determining the future of our sport in this state.

Kevin Little more than 11 years ago

Too Bad

I am the defendant in the above case. Too bad this article didn't make it into your print version, especially considering your cover story this month. This case specifically represents one of the biggest threats to fly fishing in the Commonwealth, and more generally the public's access to and use of our state's recreational resources. If it breaks the wrong way, then scenes like you depict on this month's cover will only exist for those who can pay to fish or even worse, buy a lot to get the right to fish...like exists in Great Britian and other places in Europe. I don't know how many folks read your online version, but a case of this gravity deserves a better treatment. Jefferson and Madison would roll over in their graves.

Dargan Coggeshall more than 11 years ago

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