Defending the Public’s Beach Access at Sanders Poynt
A private enterprise intends to terminate the public’s centuries-old beach access rights at Sanders Poynt in Rye, New Hampshire. Wentworth by the Sea Country Club ("WBTSCC") barricaded the public from accessing Little Harbor Beach via the parking lot or path at Sanders Poynt, located along Wentworth Road in Rye, New Hampshire. The public’s use of Sanders Poynt dates back to at least June 5, 1643, when the Province of New Hampshire’s colonial government ordered that a ferry and eating house operate at Sanders Poynt. While the ferry and eating house have since gone, the public has kayaked, fished, clammed and walked at Sanders Poynt for hundreds of years. A 1984 Rockingham Planning Commission-Town of Rye Public Shorefront Access Study noted:
Interviews suggest that the public has acquired a prescriptive use at this site by virtue of uninterrupted use for hundreds of years, primarily in search of shellfish and worms along the sides of Little Harbor.
More than twenty years ago, WBTSCC’s predecessor fenced off its golf course from Sanders Poynt and did not regulate who could access it. WBTSCC followed suit. During a 1995 Rye Planning Board Meeting, WBTSCC even admitted that it did not have any interest in the parking area at Sanders Poynt. From the 1990s until mid-2012, the Town of Rye posted signs to identify Sanders Poynt as a public "Beach Access" point.
After hundreds of years of public use, and despite WBTSCC saying it has no interest in the parking area, on October 30, 2012, WBTSCC placed a fence, boulders, sod and shrubbery across Sanders Poynt, preventing the public from parking or accessing Little Harbor Beach. The Town of Rye issued a building permit, allowing WBTSCC to build the fence. The permit included the caveat "The issuance of this permit does not constitute an admission by the Town that there are no public prescriptive rights to use of the area behind the fence."
Despite the rich history at Sanders Poynt and the scarcity of beach access points in New Hampshire, The Town of Rye has refused to protect the public’s prescriptive rights. Even the State of New Hampshire, which by law is the trustee of public trust lands such as Little Harbor Beach, refuses to protect Sanders Poynt from being privatized. Since the state and local governments refuse to take action, on January 29, 2013, Robert Jesurum, a Rye resident, petitioned the Rockingham Superior Court to protect the public’s centuries-old prescriptive rights. The Petition asks the Court to issue orders, recognizing and enforcing the public’s right to access Sanders Poynt. While the ‘fee’—or title—to the land belongs to WBTSCC, the public’s right of access accrued in the form of a public prescriptive easement, meaning the public used Sanders Poynt for more than twenty years regardless of the fee owner(s)’ permission. The Rockingham Superior Court has scheduled a trial for July 2014, to determine whether a public prescriptive easement exists.
Learn more about Sanders Poynt at www. sanderspoynt .org
"The materials of wealth are in the earth, in the seas, and in their natural and unaided productions." -Daniel Webster