Road-ends: Pleasure and Pain

We love our lakes. A few of us are fortunate enough to own a lakefront cottage. And millions rely on state, county, and local parks. But many of us who can’t afford our own lakefront cottage but live near the water treasure a nearby “road-end”. These roads that were laid out all the way to the water, even though most of them have not been paved to the water. A road end may be in a plat or may be “section line road” in either an urban or rural area. Some of these are private roads but many public.

Many of us using these road ends, however, actually abuse them, using them in ways that exceed what the law allows. Courts have held, in cases reaching back to the 1870s to as recently as this decade, that road ends can only be used to access the water—to walk into the water for a swim; to launch or retrieve a kayak, canoe, or other vessels, or to take ice for the home icebox. As I said these court rulings go way back. Those same courts have ruled that road ends cannot be used for lounging, picnicking, or sunbathing. It should not be surprising that those using road ends and those that own homes flanking road ends have frequently clashed.

The Legislature has sometimes tried to balance the interests of these lakefront cottage owners and road-end users. A couple decades ago, a statute was adopted that tries to preserve road ends as access points, requires some regulation to prevent abuse and allows temporary closings if abuses continue, with a permanent closing if all else fails. Mind you these permanent closings are not 3 strikes and you’re out. It is more like 7 strikes and you’re out. That law is designed to address trash, noise, and, in theory, lounging, picnicking and sunbathing.

More recently the Legislature adopted another law that governs the placement of docks in the water at the end of road ends. It bars individuals mooring vessels there and allows the local unit of government to place one public dock to facilitate access to and from the water. Those who violate the act can be fined up to $500 for each violation and each day constitutes an additional violation—if the local unit of government is willing to enforce the law.

Disputes continue, largely because the people involved are ignorant of the law or willfully ignore it. If you enjoy using a road end, be sure to avoid abuses that may lead to fines or to it being closed.

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