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Regarding adverse possession, the strict rule applicable to wild or woodlands is but an application of the general rule to the circumstances presented by wild or uncultivated lands. That is to say, the nature of the occupancy and use must be such as to place the lawful owner on notice that another person is in occupancy of the land, under an apparent claim of right; in the circumstances of wild and unimproved land, a more pronounced occupation is needed to achieve that purpose. The determination whether a set of activities is sufficient to support a claim of adverse possession is inherently fact-specific.
The plaintiffs seek to register approximately thirty-six acres of predominantly woodland located in Wellfleet. In their petition for registration, they asserted claims based on record title and adverse possession. For their claims of adverse possession, they assert nonpermissive use of portions of the property for more than twenty years in a manner that was actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse. In addition, based on deeds purporting to convey title to them, they claim adverse possession under color of title to portions of the locus where they cannot show actual use. In response, the defendants contend that the plaintiffs cannot establish their claim of adverse possession of any portion of the wooded parcels because they have not enclosed them or reduced them to cultivation, and in any event the deeds under which they claim color of title are inadequate in description to support such a claim. The case proceeded in the Land Court in two stages. The adverse possession claim was tried first and the judge concluded that the plaintiffs' use of portions of the property was sufficient to support a claim of adverse possession. Thereafter, the parties submitted summary judgment motions on the color of title issue. Again, the plaintiffs prevailed.
Did the trial court err in rendering summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on the ground of adverse possession for more than twenty years?
The plaintiffs or their predecessors (plaintiff Robert L. Paine's parents) have operated a commercial campground on the locus since approximately 1958. To that end, they have created roadways and cleared campsites while still maintaining the natural environment. They have placed picnic tables, fire rings, and campsite numbers on the campsites seasonally and have built a house, erected two toilet facilities and an office building, enlarged parking areas, and created a volleyball pit, a paddock, and play areas. They constructed a wall of railroad ties along the road frontage, and fencing comprised of iron pipes and wires, from which they hung “no trespassing” signs, around much of the campground. However, the fencing and walls did not enclose the entirety of the campground. The plaintiffs controlled entry to the locus — charging an amount per person — and ousted those who did not pay. The plaintiffs also advertised the campground with signage along the highway, and in newspaper advertisements and brochures distributed in local stores. In addition, they have paid taxes on the property since the 1960s; however, it is unclear exactly which parcels the plaintiffs paid taxes on because many of the bills do not delineate lot numbers and acreage. The campground is operated seasonally and houses approximately 500 individuals during the summer weekends and fewer individuals during the weeks. Individuals bring their own tents and campers. In the circumstances of the present case, in which the plaintiffs operated the locus as a commercial campground advertised as such, improved the site by clearing campsites and constructing roadways, toilet buildings, and an office, and restricted access to paying customers, we are satisfied that the judge was correct in his assessment that the plaintiffs' use was sufficient to place the record owners on notice that the plaintiffs occupied the locus under a claim of right.