William & Mary Law Review Online


Conveying property in Appalachia can be somewhat like a box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Carved by ancient rivers and winding streams, the seemingly never-ending “hollers” and hills of Appalachia can disorient even the best navigator. Couple the region’s rugged topography with an already ambiguous demarcation system, and properties once mapped by metes and bounds descriptions become impossible to re-create with any sort of certainty. Thus, though rooted in a desire for clarity, the combination of mountainous terrain and imperfect demarcation results in a property system riddled with ambiguity. Due to this inherent definitional problem in Appalachian land, the lines on a map do not always align with widespread local knowledge. The result is even further uncertainty, as variances between local understandings of place and federally standardized definitions of property cause confusion over which definition is correct, a problem this Note defines as “vertical ambiguity.” When such variances find their way into property descriptions, one’s answer—local or federal—can determine whether entire parcels of land are transferred. The question then becomes how to properly make that choice. This Note offers a clear answer: when such conflicts arise, there should be a presumption in favor of localknowledge.