Monday, April 17, 2006

"Public Property Beyond This Point -- No Trespassing"

So that explains it.

I grew up a few blocks from Klode Park in Whitefish Bay--a suburb just north of Milwaukee--and always wondered about signs at both sides of the beach that read: "Private Property Beyond This Point-No Trespassing."

Are the owners expected to care for the beach, I wondered? How do they know when their beach ends and their neighbor's beach begins? With all that beach and so few "owners," it seems like such a waste, I thought.

It turns out the signs are wrong.

According to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel front-page story today, the beaches beyond the signs are actually public, not private. Evidently there's a 1923 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that gives the people who own houses at the top of the bluffs overlooking the beach "exclusive privileges" to the space between the waterline and their actual property line.

I can imagine the arrangement had (and has) benefits for both the "owners" and the village. While the owners get to pretend they actually own the beach and thereby maintain its exclusivity, the village is able to side-step taking responsibility for what might happen on those stretches of the beach.

As a kid I ignored the signs, anyway, as many people do. But that's not the point.

Those signs made me feel like I was doing something wrong by shrugging them off (which is perhaps part of the reason I did it), when now I don't think I was doing anything wrong at all.

And I remember on at least one occasion being reprimanded by a police officer for walking on the beach beyond the signs (I pretty much ignored that, too...but, again, that's not the point).

This issue is just begging to be revisited by the Wisconsin Supreme Court today.

At the very least, as the JS article suggests, the signs should be changed to read: "Public Property Beyond This Point- No Trespassing."


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