Dispute over ATV riding not solved at meeting

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 8, 2000

MONTICELLO — Landowners and four-wheeler enthusiasts wenthead-to-head for two and a half hours Thursday morning at a publicmeeting at the Lawrence County Courthouse but were unable toresolve their differences.

Some landowners said that after more than 15 years of watchingpeople participate in a popular summer activity of riding inwaterways, they are ready to take action to keep four-wheelers(ATVs) off private property.

“All we ask is for people to leave us alone. We don’t wantanyone on our property,” Pat Boone, who leases land on BahaliaCreek, told the group of about 50 people gathered in thecourtroom.

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Some landowners, who also have property along Bahalia Creek,Fair River and White Sands Creek, expressed to law enforcementauthorities the need to issue citations for such wateractivities.

Authorities, including Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames andwildlife conservation officers (game wardens), said they will andhave issued citations when violations occur on private property,but landowners often fail to press charges.

“We will write the citations, but if the landowner does not signan affidavit, we will drop it,” said John Collins with theMississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks(MDWFP).

Citations can be issued for trespassing if ATV riders ventureonto private property when riding on the local rivers. Waterwaysare considered the property of the state, but the bed and banks ofwaterways can be classified as private property.

Some of the fines for trespassing include $150-200 for a firstoffense, $250-500 for a second offense and possible jail time,according to officials with the Department of Wildlife, Fisheriesand Parks.

The landowners said a crackdown by law enforcement duringMemorial Day weekend did lead to a significant reduction in ATVriding this summer, but landowners were not satisfied. They wantall ATV riding on private property to completely cease.

A few of the eight landowners who called the public meeting donot believe enough citations have been issued, so they have takenmeasures — such as video recording and placing barriers along thewaterways — to prevent four-wheeler enthusiasts from crossingtheir land. So far, the tactics haven’t worked.

Buddy Dickson, a spokesman for the landowners, said four-wheelerriders take down barriers and ignore signs. He said theirrebellious actions scare his wife, who likes to sunbathe near theirportion of Fair River.

Some other landowners disagreed with the recent actions oflandowners to ban ATV riders from private land. Donnie Foster, whohas a home just 20 feet from Fair River, believes people should beable to enjoy the rivers and creeks Lawrence County has tooffer.

“Kids in Lawrence County don’t have nowhere to go, and you’rewanting to put them back on the highway,” said Foster, who allowssome ATV riding on his portion of land.

Foster received applause from the crowd following his statement,which also brought several other similar comments about allowingteenagers a place to have fun.

ATV enthusiasts believed the harsh actions of the eightlandowners were a result of a few unruly ATV riders, who did notshow respect to the land.

“There’s a couple of bad people in every bunch,” said ATV riderRodney Gibson. “You can’t punish all of us because of them.”

Landowners not only pointed out that trespassing on theirprivate property was a concern, but they also made comments on howdetrimental ATVs can be to the “delicate ecosystems” surroundingwater ways.

Officials from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) aswell as MDWFP representatives were on site to address the negativeeffects of four-wheelers.

“ATV tires simply grind and trench the bottoms of the streams,”said Andrew Whitehurst with MDWFP. “It’s just simply not good foranything that’s breeding in the stream.”

ATV riders quickly pointed out to officials that other wateractivities, such as boating, also stir up vital organisms inwaterways.

DEQ officials said ATV riding was on a more destructive degreethan boating activities, adding that when boat propellers hit thebed of a waterway it is considered incidental for water use, whereas ATV riding is called destructive.

Four-wheeler riders thought DEQ officials were incorrect intheir classification of the damage ATVs cause on waterways.

“In biology class. . . . I have been taught that boat motor oilkills more fish than ATVs do,” said Gibson, 24.

Whitehurst pointed out that it was the influx of ATVs in thearea that really hurt the ecosystems around waterways. He addedthat 60 percent of ATVs in the United States are sold within a250-mile radius of Jackson.

The meeting came to a close, without resolution, when Dicksondecided it had lasted too long and was becoming hostile.

ATV riders left on a final note, saying the group of landownersmay have opened a bigger can of worms than they realized, possiblybringing more attention to the situation than necessary.