Rhode Island House Approves Legislation to Preserve Public Access Paths and Trails

The Rhode Island House of Representatives has approved a new bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend aimed at helping municipalities affordably preserve public access paths and trails. The legislation, known as 2024-H 7645A, introduces a concept called “qualified abandonment.” This allows cities and towns to abandon maintenance responsibilities for roads or paths while establishing easements that maintain public access rights.

Under the new law, municipalities can opt for this middle ground instead of choosing between maintaining a road or fully abandoning it. The easement ensures that public access for walking, biking, or reaching nature preserves and shorelines remains protected, regardless of any future changes in property ownership or development.

“Public access to nature has long been imperiled in Rhode Island by a lack of specific laws protecting it,” said Rep. Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown). “This legislation provides a means to preserve public use of paths and trails even when towns can no longer maintain them. It legally establishes public access and prevents future disputes.”

The bill requires a city or town council vote to implement qualified abandonment, ensuring that any obstructions like gates or bars are removed. It will not apply retroactively to roads abandoned before the bill’s adoption.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown) sponsors the companion bill, 2024-S 2641. This bill is particularly timely as municipalities face challenges from sea level rise and frequent flooding, prompting considerations to abandon low-lying coastal roads.

“This bill is a great step forward,” said Michael Rubin, retired Rhode Island assistant attorney general and coastal advocate. “It ensures that public access is preserved, allowing roads to continue serving recreational and natural resource access.”




Like Newport Buzz? We depend on the generosity of readers like you who support us, to help with our mission to keep you informed and entertained with local, independent news and content. We truly appreciate your trust and support!