Mr. Jones, why can't we keep flying gliders here?

The old saying is: Launching is optional, but landing is mandatory. Perhaps to be added to that is that permission from the landowner--or landowners--for both of these events is also mandatory, at least for the long-term health of our free-flight pursuits.

Landowner relations and free-flight in the USA

By John W Robinson

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Eagle Rock, Virginia (photos courtesy of the Skywackers: SW Virginia Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association)

The fact that free-flight is alive and well in the United States is due in part to all of the kind and gracious landowners in our midst: those folks who permit us to launch and land on their property.

Where in some lesser-developed countries one might be able to launch and land 'almost anywhere,' that is certainly not the case in the USA, the Land of the Free. Property rights are sacred to most Americans, and with that comes the responsibility of stewardship; landowners typically take this stewardship seriously, and carefully manage the access and general use of their property.

As pilots and responsible citizens, the free-flight community understands and appreciates landowners’ rights, and further realizes what a great privilege it is to be able to 'play' on these generous folks' property, whether at our point of departure from solid ground, the launch, or our return to it, the landing zone.

We fly at sites which include both private and public lands, and both categories demand due diligence in maintaining and preserving our current and continued use of them. How is this achieved?

How do we obtain permission to carry out free-flight activity at a particular site and how do we maintain excellent landowner relations?

Getting initial landowner permission to use a site can and does involve years of work; perseverance and determination, often accompanied by hard manual labor can get it done, but sometimes even that is not sufficient and it's 'back to the drawing board.'

So, getting the initial permission to use a site's launch and LZ (or launches and LZs), is generally agreed to be the hard part, but sometimes we screw up what should be the easy part: that is, maintaining and preserving the use of the site.

So again, how do we as the free-flight community, maintain excellent landowner relations? Thankfully it's not rocket science, nor is it even as challenging as understanding the sky. It's just common sense courtesy and kindness. That's it.

Unfortunately, in our enthusiasm and excitement to fly we can rush through some of this common sense courtesy, and momentarily forget how great we have it and what a privilege it is to engage in free-flight, and how wonderful are the folks who let us use their property--property on which they pay the taxes, land for which they are ultimately responsible. What a gift these landowners are extending us.

How best to convey our appreciation to these landowners?

Show them and tell them!

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Skywackers (SW Virginia Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) put in the winter wood for one of their landowners.

My home site of Eagle Rock, Virginia is typical of free-flight sites in the US. There are a number of landowners involved, pertaining to two launches and five or six landing zones. Our Crawford Mountain has been a regionally popular free-flight site for about 15 years now, and we have been fairly successful, I think, in managing good landowner relations.

Holiday gift giving, for instance, is a great idea. A group of us local pilots convene and, bearing gifts and good cheer, together visit the landowners every Christmas time.

Even more important than holiday gift giving is the day-to-day management of the flying sites and landowner relations. We must be meticulous in showing our respect for the owners and their land; we must take the utmost care in obeying any rules or special stipulations that the landowner may impose.

Whenever we're packing up in the LZ, local folks are bound to drive by. We always make a point to smile and wave. We of course want to be known as 'nice folks' to not only the critical landowners but all the local residents of our flying sites.

When landowners or other folks stop on launch or in the LZ to chat, then that's what we do; the flying can wait a little while. There's nothing more important at that moment than that conversation!

And never forget to close the gate--it seems that lots of flying sites in the US feature gates that need to be managed, and our Eagle Rock is no exception. People may not notice much as you properly manage the gate issue, but get careless and forgetful about it and they'll notice for sure!

Drive slowly and carefully on roads on our landowners' property; it's inconsiderate to do otherwise. Besides stirring up dust, tearing down the road can also stir up ill feelings.

We always invite the landowners to our fly-ins and other events. Even if they don't attend, they are bound to appreciate the gesture.

Keeping the launches and LZs meticulously clean is critical; not doing so is one of the most common landowner-relations problems. So, even if you didn't put it there, pick up any litter you see.

With the use of land for our free-flight pursuits often come special conditions. At Eagle Rock for instance there are a few fields in which we are not to land when any crop, even hay, is planted. Also, in some of the LZs we are not to drive vehicles; in some it's okay.

Our local club once had a landowner who owned a rather neurotic dog that went 'ballistic' every time a glider flew overhead, to the point of sometimes injuring itself. The owner therefore requested that we call ahead before flying so that she could keep the dog inside during flight activities. Odd, yes, but we were happy to oblige.

It is especially important, when visiting a new flying site, that one learns of all the particular conditions that apply with respect to land-use issues, by seeking out and receiving a thorough site-briefing from a local, knowledgeable pilot.

If we work together and utilize simple common sense courtesy we can maintain excellent landowner relations, not to mention our public image at large. This diligence, in turn, will go a long way to ensure a strong future of free-flight in the United States.

Landowner relations best practices

  1. Obtain permission and sign appropriate paperwork
  2. Maintain and preserve the site
  3. Courtesy and kindness
  4. Smile and wave at the local residents
  5. Close the gate or meet other requirements
  6. Drive slowly and carefully
  7. Keep launch and LZ meticulously clean
  8. Involve the landowners/invite them to watch
  9. Learn all the site requirements and receive site briefing
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