Forbidden, verboten, ipinagbabawal, prohibido. All these words mean the same; prohibition of entering a location or area. Ever been on a trail, bike path or just strolling in the woods and suddenly notice you were in a forbidden zone upon seeing a no trespassing sign? What did you do? Continue or Retreat?
The other day, I went to a farm that opened it’s gates for locals to come and interact with their animals (and buy some produce). I knew there was a abandoned railroad tunnel nearby, it was a frequent attraction on the cyclocross bike circa 2010-2014. After feeding and petting fluffy highland cows and tasty looking goats, I went off to check out how the old railroad tunnel was doing.
Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” We want to take you along for our exploits in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring in this series. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels, and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
Upon arriving to the railroad tunnel, I nostalgically entered and took a few photos. On the other end, no trespassing signs were present. Never noticing these signs before, I got outta there. I hear criminal records are detrimental to continued employment.
Seeing the no trespassing signs made me want to review what state code defines trespassing as and what should be done if one does end up trespassing on lands not known to be private.
Table of Contents
Know the Laws
This site (as of 10/24/21) provides a generalized definition of how trespassing is defined in every US state. West Virginia State Law’s codes about what properties are forbidden to be on is easily evident. WV State Code §61-3B states that trespassing is defined as “the willful unauthorized entry upon, in or under the property of another”
So, how do I know whether I’m trespassing on someone’s land or not? Laws state lands are classified as posted in the following ways:
- Reasonably maintained signs placed not more than five hundred feet apart / along and at each corner of the boundaries of the land.
- Boundaries marked with a clearly visible purple painted marking, consisting of one vertical line no less than eight inches in length and two inches in width… …no more than one hundred feet apart and readily visible to any person approaching the property.
- Placed along the boundary line and at all roads, driveways and gates of entry onto the posted land so as to be clearly noticeable from outside of the boundary line.
- Not necessary to give notice by posting on any enclosed land or place not exceeding five acres in area on which there is a dwelling house or property.
- “Cultivated land” is that land which has been cleared of its natural vegetation and is presently planted with a crop, orchard, grove, pasture or trees or is fallow land as part of a crop rotation.
- “Fenced land” is that land which has been enclosed by a fence of substantial construction, whether with rails, logs, post and railing, iron, steel, barbed wire, other wire or other material, which stands at least three feet in height.
Do you ever find yourself telling whippersnappers to get off your lawn? You might like these posts:
Know the Dangers
Being on other’s property is a forbidden zone not only due to being (likely) illegal, but also dangerous.
You guys read this website, so I know you’re well aware of how enjoyable target shooting and hunting is. These activities are major risks for those moving around either by foot, bike, or motorized vehicle while in the woods. If you’re the one traipsing around in the woods and sprain your ankle on a felled tree or natural unexpected event… (sinkhole, slippery rocks, mud, etc) this could place the landowner legally liable to those injuries, as stupid as this sounds. As a landowner, this is a stressful thing to think about.
If someone was on my land with a broken leg, threatening to sue because they were climbing my tree stand and fell… that day would not end well for either of us, depending on my level of patience at that moment.
Curtis Seltzer, land consultant and publisher once stated: “Country-property owners normally find one of three types of trespassers: those who feel they have a right to be on your land even though they know they don’t; those who know better but trespass anyway; and those who actually do have a legal right to be there.” Pretty sure he never met Donald Rumsfeld since he forgot to discuss those who flat out don’t know they’re in a forbidden zone.
Too Fun to Avoid
What do you do if land that has legacy trails and is now classified as forbidden to be on? This has happened several times for me with mountain biking, and more often than not, I try to talk to the land owners. There have been six instances where I went to a land owner that posted Private Property signs on land ridden with ATV trails. I asked the land owner whether it was okay for me to ride my bicycle there. Five of six times, the owners immediately provided verbal permission and claimed the signs were there for legal purposes to be able to run off dirt bike and ATV riders that were eroding their soils and making gigantic potholes. One individual required me to mail a formal request to his estate’s office; once received, he mailed back a five year zero-cost land permission slip for all non-destructive activities, other than hunting. This man reported he believes a few thousand deer had been poached across the fifteen counties he owned land in.
What occurred with these landowners is pretty similar to what West Virginia state code indicates is the proper way to do so for various acts on a person’s land.
Written permission must be in the possession of anyone who will shoot, hunt, fish, or trap upon the fenced, enclosed or posted grounds or lands of another person. Written permission is also required to peel trees or timber, build fires or do any other act or thing thereon in connection with or auxiliary to shooting, hunting, fishing or trapping. Hunters who kill or injure any domestic animal or fowl, destroy or damage any bars, gates, or fence, or leave open any bars or gates resulting in damage to the owner, can be held criminally liable as well as liable to the landowner. The landowner may personally arrest any such person found violating this law and take the hunter before a JUSTICE OF THE PEACE for trial. In such instances, the landowner is vested with all the powers and rights of a game warden.
Going back to the abandoned railroad tunnel and unknowingly being in a forbidden zone, what do you do once already there?
Since I wasn’t lost, I can’t really be like “Oh, I’m so sorry, didn’t know where I was!” if confronted by an owner, but I sure as heck didn’t expect to see no trespassing signs on the other side. Not sure about you, but if I confronted someone on my property and they were empathetically concerned about getting off of my land, I’d tell them to get off and not come back. No cops, no hoopla, just direct commands. There have been times where I’ve exited large swathes of land to find a road due to injury or hypoglycemia. These were deliberate trespassing with opportunistic self-sustaining purposes. It was much easier to walk 1.5 miles to the closest road and catch a ride from a friend than backtrack six miles of trails.
No Trespassing means NO TRESPASSING
Once again, if there’s a previously acessible route that you hike or bike on and it is now forbidden to be on, stay off of it. No matter how dickish it seems for those places to be removed from your catalog of places to be, stay off and try to see if seeking permission will work. Don’t be like the cattle ranchers in the late 1800’s and start a hoopla when land is no long accessible, we know how that went… You aren’t Grace Hopper, ask for permission, don’t break laws due to self entitlement.
Be respectful. Forbidden zones are that, forbidden. Act as if this was your land. What would you do if you saw an illegal poacher or timber thief? A land owner doesn’t know what your intentions are, so make sure to be the best person you can be and GTFO.