Federal Eminent Domain Blog

The Corner-Trespass Rule and Property Rights


The Great Falls Tribune article written by Chuck Denowh offers an interesting question. With all the federal lands, is there a right to cross from one public area to another through a private property? When is there a balance between a taking of a property interest by entry or access to the public resource? Potentially, there is no balance, and property rights prevail with certainty.


The issue stems from the checkerboard pattern of private and public land created in many western states when the federal government granted land to railroads decades ago. Today, many parcels of public land sit kitty-corner to one another, bordered by two similarly-situated parcels of private land.

Proponents of the corner-trespass bill would like to create pathways over private land to allow travel from one parcel of public land to the next. They describe this situation as a legal “gray area” because the law does not specifically prohibit crossing private land at a section corner. This scenario is anything but a gray area.

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