Two years ago Robert Currier finished his military career and came home to retire on the old family farm along the banks of the Rappahannock.
He envisioned peace and quiet, a little fishing on warm evenings along his half-mile of river frontage, a place for the dogs to run, a simple life in the country.
But today Currier is embroiled in a nightmare that shows no sign of abating. He says he hears shots in the night and wonders if they're aimed at him. Trucks roar up and down the road outside the farm, smashing street signs to the ground. He hears epithets and expletives hurled his way from the riverbank, he claims he's been challenged by trespassers on his own land and that cattle on his farm have turned up dead or simply disappeared.
Currier says canoeists and ne'er-do-wells are making his life miserable and he doesn't intend to take it anymore.
Currier's farm straddles Old Rte. 29 on the south bank of the Rappahannock. That happens to be one of the most popular put-in points for white-water canoeists in Northern Virginia and a traditional evening beer-drinking and story-swapping spot for local people.
The five-mile stretch between Currier's farm and Kelly's Ford downstream includes a half-mile of rapids that every serious area canoeist has tried or intends to try.
The paddlers have always put in on the public right of way next to Currier's place and parked their cars on the broad shoulder of the highway, which also is public land.
But if Currier has his way, they won't put it there again, nor will the locals park there.
Events came to a head in July. Currier claims that on two occasions he and his wife were challenged and threatened by canoeists who were on the Curriers' land. One burly boater balled up a fist and shook it at Currier's wife, the farm owner said.
He called state police and added complaints of littering, public drinking, disorderliness and destruction of property to the charge about the canoeist's threatening gesture.
State police and state highway department personnel inspected the area, he said, and agreed a problem existed.
The highway department responded by posting signs for 50 yards along both sides of Rte. 29 adjacent to his land. The signs said "No Parking."
Canoeists and local folks were incensed. "It was like throwing sand in the face of some of these boys," said Scott Carter, head of the local chapter of Float Fisherman of Virginia. "They'd been using that spot for 40 years."
The signs didn't last a night. They were mowed down by angry motorists. On three subsequent occasions the signs were replanted by state officials and each time they were mowed down again.
The last time it happened the Highway Department gave up and left the signs down, twisted rubble by the roadside.
The situation at Currier's farm is a powder keg waiting to explode next spring, when canoeists descend on the river again.
The canoeists feel unfairly accused. John Seabury Thomson, chairman of the American Canoe Association's River Rights Action Committee and a Washington paddler of great experience, said, "We've never seen public land closed to protect private land adjacent to it before."
He and Carter contend that Currier's problem is really with local beer-drinkers and hell-raisers, and that paddlers who use the river are more likely to pick up trash than to strew it around.
The state police, according to Sgt. George Black of the Culpeper headquarters, are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
"The canoeists have a right to the river, but Mr. Currier has his rights, too. Unfortunately, the canoeists are suffering for acts they may or may not have had anything to do with.
"It came out in the local paper that people here were calling this area 'our drinking spot.' We can't tolerate that."
Black, said that as long as the "no parking" signs are down, state police won't ticket cars that park at the Rappahannock put-in on Rte. 29. But that's no long-range answer.
"Knocking the signs down is at best a temporary solution," said John Heerwald of the Commission on Outdoor Recreation, an organization that was drawn into the drama by Carter.
"If Mr. Currier continues to complain, the highway department is going to have to do something." One suggestion is immovable guardrails that would permantly close off the roadside for parking.
"We recognize that this is one of the most popular whitewater stretches in Northern Virginia and we don't want to lose it," Heerwald said. "I don't think canoeists are the ones causing the problem, by and large, but you can't let some people park there and others not."
Currier says he won't budge. "I won't compromise or jeopardize on inch of my property rights," he said. "I'm here to stay. Adverse conditions aren't about to move me.
"I know that my stand is well founded or I wouldn't have created all this dissension. I'd have been put in my spot a long time ago."
In the end, Washington-area paddlers may lose their access to one of the best stretches of whitewater around, and that concerns them mightily.
Says Thomson, "It's a growing problem as canoeing grows. Popular access points simply aren't popular with the locals.
"As canoeing grows in popularity so does resentment of invasion of privacy by the landowners along the river."