Public Access and Leases

Consider recreational leases to share your land with your community.

Some woodland owners allow the public ongoing access to their land. They may allow certain recreational activities, like fishing, hiking or hunting, for free or for a fee that supplements their income.

If you’re interested in allowing this kind of access and use, there are some decisions you’ll have to make. The first is what kinds of activities to allow. These can include:

  • hiking
  • bird watching
  • photography
  • camping
  • fishing
  • hunting
  • horseback or off-highway vehicle (ATV, truck, etc.) riding

The other decision is whether to charge visitors for access. Many landowners have found recreational hunting and fishing leases to be especially good sources of supplemental income.

These leases are agreements between you (the lessor) and hunters or fishers (the lessees) that grant them access to your land for a specified activity and a specified time period. Your lessees pay you an agreed-upon amount per acre or per lessee.

Such arrangements can provide steady supplemental income, but they also require hands-on management and interaction with the public. You must find lessees, create and maintain resources that make your property attractive to them (for example, by building hunting blinds and improving habitat for the wildlife species of interest), and handle any issues—road and tree damage, trash dumping, etc.—that can mar access or enjoyment of the land.

In many cases, asking for payment increases your liability (see Landowner Liability 101), but that only means you’ll need to stay aware of potential hazards on your property and repair them for your paying visitors.

Whether or not you charge for access to your property, you should make clear what activities are allowed on your land by posting them in an easily visible location. Consult with a county sheriff, game warden or other local professional to make sure you’re posting properly.

With the right planning, preparation and management, opening your land to public access can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. And if you’re still not sure what kind of access is right for you, there’s a world of experts out there ready to help.

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