River Walk lawsuit dropped
Village reroutes walk on two new paths around Dorsey parking lot property after engineering study
SARANAC LAKE — The village of Saranac Lake has dropped a lawsuit against property owners along the River Walk because it’s found a way to literally circumvent the problem.
Bruce Darring and Katheryn Stiles, who own Bruce Darring Custom Woodworking, a shop and their home along the Saranac River, were preparing to go to court with the village next month for blocking the section of the River Walk which goes through their property because they had blocked it off a few years ago, saying the public was trashing their property.
But a new engineering study the village got shows that that route would not have worked for the walking path in either case, so the village is rerouting the walk on two new paths, one of which is on a new path through their property.
The two new River Walk paths deviate from the river slightly, but are already common walkways for pedestrians around town.
Instead of following right along the river edge through the Darring and Stiles property, to the Dew Drop Inn and up to Broadway, River Walk pedestrians will now either take the bridge over the Saranac River to Dorsey Street where they can turn right and walk down to Broadway, or take a village parking lot up to a covered staircase between two buildings to Main Street/Broadway.
Williams said an engineering study from Barton and Loguidice, an engineering and design firm the village works with often, found it was not feasible for the River Walk to go along the Dew Drop Inn, with or without an easement from all the property owners.
Williams said B&L told the village the path would have to go into the building to get up to street level or go under the bridge, where there’s not enough head room when the water level rises.
So the village terminated the easement it had with Darring and Stiles and created a new one, allowing pedestrians to walk on their property.
The suit was set to go to trial in October. Based on the judge’s prior rulings on other issues relating to the case, it appeared the case would swing in the village’s favor. But village Mayor Jimmy Williams said the village would have accrued a “huge amount of legal fees” in the process and he also wants to work on more favorable terms with Darring and Stiles.
He said he ran for office on a platform of “rebuilding relationships” and this is one of those relationships he wanted to mend.
“It feels great,” Williams said on Monday of dropping the suit.
Stiles said they are not yet able to speak on the new agreement with the village, but she will soon.
In 1998, the village and Darring signed an easement agreement, giving the village the right to build and maintain a portion of the River Walk passing through Darring’s property for public use. In 2019, frustrated with the public’s use of the walkway, Darring and Stiles blocked off the path with a “Private Property” sign, placing trees and planters along the path and building a short wall out of the walkway with bricks on both ends.
Darring and Stiles filed photos in the lawsuit of dog poop in the snow, hypodermic needles in the dirt and people urinating in the bushes near their property.
The two had wanted to terminate the easement with the village, but a state Supreme Court judge said their original agreement did not allow that.
In 2021, the state judge sided with the village in a pretrial motion, ruling that the property owners needed to remove the bricks, wire and plants restricting access to the walkway.
That was just a preliminary injunction. The case had not officially been heard in court yet. At the time, the judge was asking the property owners to allow the village its property rights on the easement before the case went any further.
Williams said the village will need signs to mark the new River Walk passageways.