ALBANY -- A canoeist won a court case yesterday that had challenged the right of paddlers to cross private land via a small stream connecting two popular Adirondack wilderness lakes.

The landowners, Brandreth Park Association and Friends of Thayer Lake, had sued Phil Brown of Saranac Lake after he wrote an article in the Adirondack Explorer newspaper in 2009 about canoeing from Lake Lila to Little Tupper Lake in the state-owned Whitney Wilderness Area.

Brown used the Mud Pond waterway across Brandreth land despite the landowner's no-trespassing sign and cable across the stream. His article included photos of him and another paddler on the stream.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation sided with Brown in the case, saying the stream is navigable and thus paddlers have the legal right to use it.

A State Supreme Court judge agreed.He directed the landowner to stop putting cables or warning signs across the stream.

John Caffrey, Brown's attorney, said a landmark 1998 decision by the state's highest court established that recreational use can be considered in deciding whether a waterway is open to the public under common law.

In the 1998 case, the Sierra Club successfully challenged a private landowner on the Moose River in Hamilton County to establish the right of paddlers to cross private tracts.

Tuesday's ruling said paddlers also had the right to make a 500-foot portage on the private land along the Mud Pond waterway to get around a stretch of rapids.

It said the landowners were free to continue to post and prosecute trespassers who fish or enter other parts of their property.

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