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Hosting the Mad River Path: landowners protected by Vermont laws

The Mad River Path is a valued community resource for many reasons. It provides a safe alternative for travel by foot, wheel, ski or snowshoe through The Valley. It can connect Valley residents and visitors to the towns, schools, businesses and special places of the Mad River watershed. It creates accessible recreation for all ages, and it helps to foster a strong, healthy community.

 

The Mad River Path Association (MRPA) builds and maintains the Mad River Path throughout The Valley. MRPA’s mission is to connect the Mad River Valley communities through a system of public pathways, offering accessible recreation and alternative transportation options for all who live and visit the Mad River Valley.

The MRPA makes this community resource possible by collaborating with the towns and private landowners who generously host the Mad River Path on their land. Many landowners are hesitant to host the Path because of concerns regarding liability. While their concerns are understandable, there is considerable liability protection from the state of Vermont for landowners who allow public access to their land for recreation without charging a fee.

Vermont law and policy strongly favor the protection of landowners from liability to encourage owners to make their land available for recreational uses by the public. Vermont’s laws are among the most protective in the United States for landowners who act in good faith and who do not seek to make a profit from the public’s recreational use.

Under Vermont law 12 V.S.A. § 5793, a landowner is not liable for personal injuries or property damages incurred by users of a recreation path unless either:

 

1.             The landowner acts with malice or wanton misconduct. (“Malice” means the landowner intended to inflict injury; “wanton misconduct” means the landowner should have known the act is likely to cause injury),  or

 

2.             The landowner is paid a fee for the path’s use. (Note that accepting a tax benefit, or accepting insurance against claims, is not a “fee” that exposes the landowner to liability.) 

This statute also specifically states that when making land available for a public path without a fee, the landowner has no duty to make the property safe or to inspect for dangers on the land.

The Vermont Legislature adopted this statute in 1997 to remove any doubt from the law and encourage landowners to make their property available for public recreational use.  (See 12 V.S.A. §§ 5791 – 5794.)

An earlier statute remains in force and further bolsters landowners’ insulation from liability. Under 12 V.S.A. § 1037, a participant in any sport (including bicycle riding and hiking) is deemed to have accepted the inherent and obvious dangers of the sport. Thus, a participant in such sports cannot recover from other people any compensation for injuries or damage that arise from these accepted risks.

The state of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has published a pamphlet that explains in detail the protection of landowners who generously make their land available for uses like the Mad River Path. This pamphlet, “Public Recreation on Private Land, a Landowner’s Guide,” is available online at www.vtfpr.org/pdf/pubrec.pdf.

The Mad River Path Association also maintains liability insurance which can offer some additional protection to landowners who host the Mad River Path.

If you’re interested in hosting the Path and you’d like to learn more about the liability protection offered to landowners through Vermont law, please contact MRPA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 496-7284.

 

Foushee is the director of the Mad River Valley Path Association and Monte is a member of the Path Association Landowner Committee.

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