Last week, a Virginia angler conceded defeat last week in a two-year legal battle to protect recreation and access on the Jackson River, a cold, clear trout stream in western Virginia.
In 2010, Dargan Coggeshall and his brother-in-law waded in the river, whose waters are publicly owned, according to Virginia law. However, a property owner along the river had Coggeshall arrested for trespassing and later sued him for $10,000 in damages. The property owner claimed that crown grants issued by the King of England almost three centuries ago validated his claims to owning the river bottom.
An Alleghany County court ruled last week that the property owner was justified in his trespassing claims, but the court did not rule on who actually owns the river bottom. Coggeshall claims that the crown grant cited by the property owner does not explicitly mention the river bottom. And a more recent Virginia statute grants ownership of all of Virginia’s riverbeds to the Commonwealth.
Coggeshall plans to continue fighting for recreational access to the river through the Virginia Rivers Defense Fund, which he founded. Coggeshall plans to reach beyond the fishing community and partner with other outdoor and environmental organizations to secure access to this publicly owned waterway.
Meanwhile, the property owner has asked Virginia to remove the Jackson River from its map of rivers open to the public.