Back in the early 1990's, I was enlisted by Paul Keesler, an old friend, to assist with a book he was writing. Entitled Canoe Fishing New York Rivers and Streams, the book was eventually published in 1995. It included an entire section detailing the rights of access and navigation on the waters of New York state.
Although my picture was on the book's cover, I had little to do with its content. Unfortunately, navigation laws were ill-defined and "book carrying paddlers" soon flaunted the rules of the day. I heard about their claims from irate property owners.
Around the same timeframe, the issue of 'navigable waters' was a hot topic among both paddlers and private landowners. In the summer of 1991, the issue was brought to a head when a group of paddlers purposely navigated a section of the South Branch of the Moose River, near Old Forge.
A portion of the trip took the group through 12 miles of posted private lands owned by the venerable, Adirondack League Club. The Club, which encompasses more than 50,000 acres, maintained that the river was considered private property. They promptly sued the paddlers for trespassing.
In a situation akin to Jim McCulley riding a motor vehicle on the Old Mountain Road and reporting his violation to the local Forest Ranger, the Moose River paddlers wanted to force the issue.
They wanted their day in court to test the waters and they needed a test case to establish or reestablish that long held navigation rights held that "paddlers can walk on private land to portage around dams, rapids and waterfalls to navigate through private property" providing that access and egress was attained via public lands.
With the backing of the Sierra Club, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (AFTPA) and other advocacy groups, the case went to court.