Ohio Joins Michigan – allowing beachcombers along Lake Erie

19 Sep 2011

In 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court decided the case of Glass v. Goeckel, where it decided that a member of the public may walk on the private beach of one of the Great Lakes without trespassing on a lakefront (littoral) owner’s property, provided that the general public stays below the ordinary high water mark. The court based its decision on the language of the “public trust” doctrine and found that walking along the lakeshore is a traditionally protected public right.

The US Supreme Court court denied the petition of the property owners adjoining Lake Huron for a writ of certiorari.

Ohio has now come out basically the same way.  In a dispute between the State and owners of private property bordering Lake Erie, the Ohio Supreme Court reaffirmed court decisions dating back to 1878 and legislation enacted in 1917, holding that the State holds a public trust extending “to the natural shoreline, which is the line at which the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes.” 

The boundary of the public trust does not, however, as the court of appeals  concluded in affirming the trial court, change from moment to moment as the water rises and falls; rather, it is at the location where the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes.

A private land owner has no title beyond the natural shoreline; they have only the right of access and wharfing out to navigable water.

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