Would You Support Opening Private Land to Responsible Public Access?

We had a different poll question in mind for today, but the piece we posted earlier about the Scottish “Right to Roam” threw a wrinkle into those plans. Briefly, in 2003 the Scottish government passed what’s known as the Land Reform Act, which put into official law an old Scottish right that allowed the landless access to privately held land. Anyone, whether a Scottish citizen or a tourist from a foreign country, has the legal right to cross or otherwise be on any privately owned land for the purposes of recreation or education, waterways included. The right extends only so far as the user acts reasonably and responsibly.

Over 80 percent of Scotland’s land is privately owned. Without such a law, access to the countryside would be greatly restricted, an unacceptable burden for a population that loves to get outside and that historically takes issue with limits on the freedom to move. You may hike, swim, ski, ride a bike, climb, and camp, among pretty much anything else you might imagine—though motorized access is forbidden. Read all about the law here at the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It’s really quite a legislative achievement, though one motivated by addressing the fact that the vast majority of land could be rendered off-limits to the people without consent of landowners, many of whom don’t live in Scotland and aren’t even Scottish.

Now then, would that fly here in the US? No, is the obvious answer, we suppose. So maybe a better question is whether or not you, as a presumed public lands advocate, would ever consider such a thing.

Something like 65 percent of land in the US is privately owned, the vast majority of which lies east of the Mississippi. For the most part, if you want to venture into wide-open spaces in the West, you can. Whether in a national park, forest, or on BLM land, the West is loaded with accessible wild places. But that still locks up a great many millions of acres as off-limits, especially in the east. Even in western states, “No Trespassing” signs abound, often protecting empty privately owned land.

Scottish and American history are quite different, as are our approaches to land ownership and access. But if there were a large, organized movement to open private land to responsible public access, would you support it? That doesn’t imply being forced to let random campers set up in your backyard, either. That’s where the reasonable and responsible use come in.

As an incentive for conversation, we’re giving away a copy of Adventure Journal to one commenter chosen at random. You can choose any issue we have in stock, and if you’re already a subscriber we can extend your sub by an issue, send you an issue you don’t have, or give one to a friend. Just include your email when you post your comment so we can get in touch.

Photo: Linnaea Mallette



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