John Sturgeon knew the National Park Service’ (NPS) view of the law was wrong and was impeding his rights. But unlike most, he was determined to go through whatever it took to prove it and restore his ability to recreate. In 2007, Sturgeon was hunting in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska and traveling on the Nation River on his hovercraft. Two NPS rangers approached him and informed him that he was not allowed to use his hovercraft in an NPS unit. He was pretty sure the NPS rangers were wrong because he was on a navigable waterway, but he ended up having to drag his hovercraft away. Rather than give in, he dug in.
Sturgeon pursued his right to seek judicial review of the agency’s decision. He filed a lawsuit at the District Court and lost. He appealed and lost again. But then his case was taken up by the Supreme Court and he won. However, all he won was another review by the appellate court. Not giving up, he went through with the appeal, and lost again. Once again, the Supreme Court took up his case and he won- this time for good. The Supreme Court ruled that “park rangers cannot enforce the service’s hovercraft rule on the Nation River  and John Sturgeon can once again drive his hovercraft up that river.” The decision hinged on a thorough review of how Congress intended for the state of Alaska to retain authority over the river as a navigable waterway even though it was inside a National Park unit.
The unusually prolonged litigation took over 11 years and involved two trips to the Supreme Court, which required a lot of time, effort and funding. Many others shared an interest in the issue, and they all came together to ensure the government did not win merely because it had deeper pockets. Not many folks can do this, but if John Sturgeon had not found a way to persevere to the end, NPS’ decades long incorrect understanding of the law would have continued unchallenged and unchanged.