The state agencies responsible for overseeing Pennsylvania’s natural resources have praised a recent court decision, guaranteeing access to the Little Juniata River in Huntington County for boating and other recreation.
The Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission filed suit in 2003 against Donald Beaver and other defendants who had closed a 1.3-mile section of the Little Juniata River to the public; they started a private fishing club.
During a week-long trial, the agencies asked the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Huntington County to confirm the commonwealth’s long-standing position that Little Juniata River is a navigable water of the state, which is held in trust for the benefit of the public.
“The court has confirmed what we have maintained throughout this process: the historically navigable waters of the commonwealth belong to the people of the commonwealth, and no individual or corporation has the right to restrict the public’s access to these waterways,” DEP Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said in a statement.
The commonwealth based ownership of the river on historical evidence of navigation and trade on the Little Juniata River dating from the 1700s, and statutory designations of the river as a public highway dating to 1794, 1808 and 1822.
“The court's ruling that the Little Juniata River is in fact a public waterway makes it clear that those who fish and boat have a right to enjoy one of the state’s true natural treasures,” PFBC Executive Director Doug Austen said in a statement. “Without access, the finest waters in the commonwealth have little value for public recreation. So protecting the public's rights on public waters is of utmost importance to this agency and our constituents.”