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New Jersey Recreational Use Statute
Most states have recreational use statutes and are intended to encourage land owners to make their properties available to the public for "recreational uses".
The statute language is designed to protect the land owner from legal liability for accidents that may occur when the user is on the property for recreational purposes. The exception to protection is "willfully malicious conduct" or what is termed "gross negligence". In general, gross negligence is hard to prove unless there truly is a case of "severe carelessness" or "willfully malicious conduct". The burden of proof is high on the plaintiff's attorney for any gross negligence case.
"Recreational uses" include a wide variety of activities including hiking, paddling, equestrian, etc. and whether mountain biking is specifically mentioned in the statute, or not, mountain biking is a recreational use.
The land owner retains the right to deny access to the public and the right to eject any member of the public from the property.
In cases, such as where public land with trails and there exists adjacent land on which you would like permission to ride/build trails, and the land manager is afraid of liability, inform him or her about NJ's recreational use statute. The fear of legal liability is the most frequent objection to access and without it, you may attain permission to access the land.
For more information, visit the American Whitewater site: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/archive/article/124/ Note: AW worked closely with IMBA and AHAA to compile the content here.
New Jersey Recreational Use Statute
For NJ, the Recreational Use Statute is also called the “Open Lands Management Act.” The text of the statue can be found below.
NEW JERSEY STATUTES
TITLE 13: CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT–PARKS AND RESERVATIONS
CHAPTER 1B: DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT [DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT OF 1970]
ARTICLE IIC: PARKS, FORESTRY AND RECREATION
§13:1B-15.133. Short title
This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Open Lands Management Act.”
HISTORY: L.1983, c. 560, s. 1, eff. Jan. 17, 1984.
As used in this act:
a. “Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Environmental Protection;
b. “Department” means the Department of Environmental Protection;
c. “Program” means the Open Lands Management Program.
HISTORY: L.1983, c. 560, s. 2, eff. Jan. 17, 1984.
§13:1B-15.135. Legislative findings and declarations
The Legislature finds and declares that opportunities for access to recreational open space are rapidly diminishing and that, in an effort to explore alternate techniques to provide that access, the State should aid private landowners permitting public recreational use of their land.
The Legislature further finds and declares that administering a program to aid private landowners, informing the public of recreation opportunities and evaluating the operation of the program would best be implemented by establishing an Open Lands Management Program, and by empowering the Department of Environmental Protection to provide financial assistance and in kind services to assist private landowners in maintaining and increasing public recreation opportunities, all as hereinafter provided.
HISTORY: L.1983, c. 560, s. 3, eff. Jan. 17, 1984.
§13:1B-15.141. Liability of owner, lessee or occupant
a. An owner, lessee or occupant of land for which an access covenant has been entered into and who is participating in the program and thereby guarantees access pursuant to subsection c. of section 7 of this act does not thereby:
(1) extend any assurance that the premises, including any natural or man-made conditions, are safe for these purposes;
(2) constitute the person to whom access is guaranteed an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owned; or
(3) assume responsibility for, or incur liability for, any injury to person or property caused by any act of persons to whom access is guaranteed.
b. This section shall not limit the liability which would otherwise exist for willful or malicious failure to guard, or to warn against, a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.
HISTORY: L.1983, c. 560, s. 9, eff. Jan. 17, 1984.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Text of Code also available at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/html/statutes.htm on 11/13/00.
§13:1B-15.136. Open lands management program; establishment; purpose
There is established in the Division of Parks and Forestry in the Department of Environmental Protection the Open Lands Management Program. The purpose of this program shall be to provide financial assistance and in kind services for the development and maintenance of privately owned land for recreational purposes in accordance with the provisions of this act. It shall further be the purpose of this program to evaluate the operation of State efforts to provide opportunities for recreational access to privately-owned open space.
§13:1B-15.137. Rules and regulations
The commissioner is authorized to adopt and enforce, pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L. 1968, c. 410 (C. 52:14B-1 et seq.), rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this act.
§13:1B-15.138. Public meetings
The department shall undertake an informational and educational effort to acquaint landowners with the basic objectives and details of the program by conducting public meetings in the various geographical regions of the State.
§13:1B-15.139. Projects by private landowners
a. Voluntary offers to undertake certain projects shall be solicited by the department from private landowners. The department may provide a landowner with any appropriate assistance and guidance in the development of recreational opportunity proposals particularly suited to the topographical characteristics of the land.
b. A landowner may file an application with the department, on forms prescribed by the commissioner, requesting financial assistance for a specific project or projects for public recreational access to his privately- owned open space. The department shall evaluate the application and, within 30 days of receipt of the application, either deny the application citing the reasons therefor or grant preliminary approval thereof.
c. If preliminary approval has been granted, the landowner and the commissioner may enter into an agreement, hereinafter referred to as an “access covenant,” which guarantees public access for a specified period of time, for specified recreational purposes to a specified parcel or parcels of land in return for appropriate and reasonable financial assistance or in kind services, or both, as determined by the commissioner.
d. If an access covenant has been signed by a landowner and the commissioner, the landowner shall cause a statement containing the conditions of the covenant to be attached to and recorded with the deed to the land in the same manner as the deed was originally recorded.
§13:1B-15.140. Eligible projects
Projects eligible for consideration by the commissioner shall include but not necessarily be limited to:
a. Installation, repair or replacement of existing protective structures, such as fencing, water bars, berms or stiles;
b. Installation, repair or replacement of any facility which provides or improves public recreational access to privately-owned land, such as parking areas, access roads, trails, signs, picnic areas, rest areas or boat or canoe launch areas;
c. Planting, restoration or maintenance of trees or shrubs for the purpose of screening or increasing the value of scenic areas; and
d. Repair or restoration of any vandalized crops or improvements located on, or adjacent to, agricultural land which is subject to an access covenant.
§13:1B-15.142. Assessment and taxation
The access covenant for recreational purposes shall not affect the assessment and taxation of agricultural land which is taxed pursuant to the “Farmland Assessment Act of 1964,” P.L. 1964, c. 48 (C. 54:4-23.1 et seq.), nor shall it affect the assessment and taxation of vacant land or agricultural land which is not taxed pursuant to the “Farmland Assessment Act of 1964.”