15 Feb 2007

Sleeping Roads Rise to Thwart Flatlanders

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One of the banes of country life in recent decades has been the arrival in Paradise of the urbanite seeking the rural life style, but who brings his urban attitudes and outlook with him, including the fortress mentality. As soon as the ink dries on the deed to his five acres, up goes the No Trespassing / No Hunting signs.

The aboriginal Yankees in Vermont have found a solution to thwart the inclination of flatlanders to wall off passage to their neighbors. As the Wall Street Journal reports, they are resurrecting town claims to forgotten (“sleeping”) roads.

Vermont has scores of old public roads that haven’t been used as such for decades and haven’t been kept up. Some resemble paths through the woods or private driveways, while others, at least to the casual observer, are indistinguishable from their surroundings. Now, with more retirees and second-home buyers acquiring Vermont real estate, some towns are rushing to stake claims to these “sleeping roads.”

Disputes center on differing perceptions of public and private property here. Known for its woodlands and rolling hills, Vermont has vast networks of trails, some of which run through people’s land. And Vermonters have a long tradition of letting people pass through their property for snowmobiling, hunting, hiking, and other forms of recreation. Locals worry that some of the outsiders now moving to the state are less open to that idea and are too fond of no-trespassing signs.

Some Vermonters are helping to guard this trail network by combing through old records to show that some of these roads are, in fact, still public. The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, which represents about 38,000 snowmobilers, has been giving PowerPoint presentations to members on how to compare road atlases from the 1850s with today’s highway maps to find roads that might have gotten lost over the years.

That alarms some property owners and has spooked the state’s biggest title insurer, which threatened to stop writing policies in three towns where a number of old-road cases have cropped up.

Some folks think those land-posting flatlanders have a certain amount of highbindery of this kind coming to them.

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