It sounds like a contradiction, but there are a few rules about outdoor adventures. You can’t always just set off on any old trail you run across in the woods. You will save yourself some embarrassment and possibly a visit to the local jail, if you just keep track of marked boundary lines and don’t mess around on someone else’s property.

Here are some basic things to keep in mind when you’re out in the wilderness hunting for mayapples (or Bigfoot).

Always take a map. Even if you’ve been in the area you’re headed for before, take one anyway. Whether it’s a large topographic series, or one of Tim Ernst’s little books listing all the hiking trails in NW Arkansas, know where you’re going and plan a route in and out before you lace up your boots.

If you come across a tree, a rock, a fence post, or a sign painted with purple paint, turn around and go the other direction. Trespassing of the criminal variety is defined as a person intentionally entering someone’s private property without permission. There are different levels of penalty for trespassing that depend on how far on the property you were, for how long, and other extenuating circumstances. There are also some ways to defend yourself that are listed in the law, which we’ll discuss later. The best plan is to avoid trespassing, and those paint splotches are intended to make sure that you know you’ve wandered onto someone’s property.

In addition to the purple paint, just crossing over a fence (no matter how old or decrepit it is) or an obvious property line marker can set you up for a criminal trespass charge. Any kind of trespassing is considered a “Class C” crime and is punishable with up to 30 days in jail. On top of the jail time, a fine can be attached by the court. However, if you ignore signs and posted notices, you could be bumped up to a “Class B” crime, punishable with up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine.

As we mentioned, there are some defenses written into the law:

  1. You were the guest of the owner of the property and the owner gave you permission to be there. (This can apply to using another person’s hunting lease, fishing off someone’s private dock, etc…)
  2. The property is actually public land or private land that is open for public use.
  3. You are on the property for legitimate businesses purposes or to protect public health and safety. (Think realtors, or inspectors from the health department or the water meter monitor.)
  4. You ended up on the private property accidentally and were not aware that you were in violation of criminal trespassing laws.

Knowing where you are headed before you set out will greatly reduce the chances that you could find yourself in a sticky legal situation. Keep an eye out for fences, signs, or just indication that the property you’re crossing belongs to someone, and when in doubt, turn about.

One Comment

  1. […] you’re on the search for caves, one way to find them is to ask other cavers and poke around. Trespassing is an issue, since most caves are on private property. A lot of cave owners don’t permit […]

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