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Case on Virginia river access ends when defendants concede they trespassed

A lawsuit that sparked a running debate over property rights and public recreational access in Virginia rivers ended Tuesday, when two anglers conceded that they had trespassed when they got out of their boats to cast for trout in the Jackson River.

Defendants said they had followed state guidelines and believed they were at a public fishing area. Landowners adjacent to the river brought the suit based on historical deeds to the land, which predate the United States and grant rights to the river bottom.

Dargan Coggeshall, one of the defendants, said the case had become too expensive to continue to fight in court. He said he and his brother-in-law Charles Crawford, the co-defendant in the case, would turn their attention to finding a legislative solution that would ensure that sportsmen would be able to use Virginia’s rivers in the future.

At a hearing in Alleghany County Circuit Court in Covington, Va., Judge Malfourd Trumbo granted the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgement, which bars Coggeshall and Crawford from wading in the contested portion of the river. Trumbo’s ruling effectively ended the lawsuit.

It was always a bigger issue than whether two men were trespassing, Coggeshall said.

The plaintiffs waived their right for monetary damages.

“They got that to which they are entitled,” said James Jennings, the attorney for the plaintiffs. He said anyone standing on that portion of the stream bed would face trespassing charges.

Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.


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