Vermont is a rural state and the majority of the state is still forested. While significant portions of Vermont are public land, the majority is still owned by private individuals and corporations.
The Vermont Legislature decided years ago that it wanted to encourage owners to make their land and water available to the public. Rather than somehow misconstruing the law in this blog, I am going to quote the statute embodied in Title 12, Chapter 203 of the Vermont Statutes Annotated.
The stated purpose of the law “…is to encourage owners to make their land and water available to the public for no consideration for recreational uses by clearly establishing a rule that an owner shall have no greater duty of care to a person who, without consideration, enters or goes upon the owner’s land for a recreational use than the owner would have to a trespasser.”
The statute goes on to define consideration, land and owner, then specifically states the following in 12 V.S.A. §5792 (4) Recreational use:
“Recreational use” means an activity undertaken for recreational, educational, or conservation purposes, and includes hunting, fishing, trapping, guiding, camping, biking, in-line skating, jogging, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, diving, water sports, rock climbing, hang gliding, caving, boating, hiking, riding an animal or a vehicle, picking wild or cultivated plants, picnicking, gleaning, rock collecting, nature study, outdoor sports, noncommercial aviation, visiting or enjoying archaeological, scenic, natural, or scientific sites, or other similar activities. “Recreational use” also means any noncommercial activity undertaken without consideration to create, protect, preserve, rehabilitate, or maintain the land for recreational uses.
12 V.S.A. §5793 limits the liability of owners as follows:
(a) Land. An owner shall not be liable for property damage or personal injury sustained by a person who, without consideration, enters or goes upon the owner’s land for a recreational use unless the damage or injury is the result of the willful or wanton misconduct of the owner.
(b) Equipment, fixtures, machinery, personal property.
(1) Unless the damage or injury is the result of the willful or wanton misconduct of the owner, an owner shall not be liable for property damage or personal injury sustained by a person who, without consideration and without actual permission of the owner, enters or goes upon the owner’s land for a recreational use and proceeds to enter upon or use: (A) equipment, machinery, or personal property; or (B) structures or fixtures not described in this title.
Please note that in 12 V.S.A. §5793(c) Posting, “An owner may post a sign warning against dangers on the owner’s land or water. An owner who posts a sign pursuant to this subsection shall not be liable for any damage or injury allegedly arising out of the posting unless the damage or injury is the result of the willful or wanton misconduct of the owner.”
The statute then goes on to list landowner protections in detail at 12 V.S.A. §5794, but
Section 5794 Landowner protection
(a) The fact that an owner has made land available without consideration for recreational uses shall not be construed to:
(1) limit the property rights of owners;
(2) limit the ability of an owner and a recreational user of the land to enter into agreements for the recreational use of the land to vary or supplement the duties and limitations created in this chapter;
(3) support or create any claim or right of eminent domain, adverse possession, or other prescriptive right or easement or any other land use restriction;
(4) alter, modify, or supersede the rights and responsibilities under 20 V.S.A. chapter 191 (animal control), and 20 V.S.A. chapter 193 (domestic pet or wolf-hybrid control); under 23 V.S.A. chapter 29 (snowmobiles), and 23 V.S.A. chapter 31 (all-terrain vehicles); under 19 V.S.A. chapter 23 (bicycle routes); and under 10 V.S.A. chapter 20 (Vermont trail system);
(5) extend any assurance that the land is safe for recreational uses or create any duty on an owner to inspect the land to discover dangerous conditions;
(6) relieve a person making recreational use of land from the obligation the person may have in the absence of this chapter to exercise due care for the person’s own safety in the recreational use of the land.
(b) Nothing in this chapter shall create any presumption or inference of permission or consent to enter upon an owner’s land for any purpose.
(c) For the purposes of protecting landowners who make land available for recreational use to members of the public for no consideration pursuant to this chapter, the presence of one or more of the following on land does not by itself preclude the land from being “open and undeveloped”: posting of the land, fences, or agricultural or forestry-related structures. (Added 1997, No. 110 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; amended 1997 No. 147 (Adj. Sess.), § 190a.)
Interestingly enough, the exception to the statute is for any land owned by a municipality or the state.
Recently, the Burlington Free Press had a front-page story about the posting of land to prevent hunting on people’s property. The reporter interviewed several Vermonters who explained why they post their land. The law starts from the premise that all land is open unless otherwise posted. Of course, an individual could receive a no trespass letter from an owner, preventing that particular person from going on the owner’s land whether it is posted or not.