Both sides want end to ATV controversy

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 18, 2001

FINAL IN A SERIES

MONTICELLO — Landowners and ATV riders alike are seekinganswers to solve the ever present controversy and ease tensions onFair River.

Most landowner’s believe that answer to be, essentially, thedeclaration of the river as private property — an answer ATVriders hope to avoid.

Riders, meanwhile, would like to see an answer that virtuallyleaves everything unchanged — an answer intolerable tolandowners.

There are, however, those on both sides who feel a compromise isnot out of reach and are groping for an answer agreeable to bothsides.

The law is fairly clear and generally states that the river isessentially private by intent if not wording, according tolandowner Vickie Russell.

“My interpretation would be that the river is a navigablestream, and that as long as you don’t touch the ground it’spublic,” she said. “My opinion would be that it’s private becausemost of the river is too shallow for boating and notnavigable.”

Chris Walker, who has ridden on the river since 1987 and rideson a landowner’s property with permission, supports Russell’sinterpretation.

“Unless you can take a boat and float down the river withouttouching the bed, stay off it,” he said.

Walker said he has investigated how other states have handledsimilar situations and not found an answer.

“I’ve thought about it and talked about it and it seems everystate handles it differently,” he said.

Some states, primarily in the North and West, turn recreationalATV use into a justifiable tourist attraction by using the naturalterrain as a draw, he said. Sand dunes and other economically”useless” terrain features, such as abandoned gravel pits, areturned into a sort of ATV park. Local merchants benefit from theinflux of riders each weekend and on holidays and help promote thesite.

In other states, Walker said, the other extreme is followed andATV use is virtually banned for recreational use off privateproperty.

Here, he said, the problem is that places to ride are toolimited.

“There really is no other place to go around here unless you ownproperty,” Walker said.

Russell said her family also rides ATVs, but does not ride onthe river now because of the danger of inconsiderate riders. Theyride on other property the family owns. She agreed with Walker.

“Places to ride are limited,” she said. “It would be a greatidea to have tracks or other facilities for ATVs.”

Aside from building new facilities for ATV use, Walker said theanswer was a social one.

“It’s a touchy situation,” he said. “You just have to beresponsible. When it comes down to the core, everyone has torespect the landowner and abide by their wishes. If you don’trespect them, you’re going to lose (the privilege). Respect is theonly way to keep the place for riding.”

Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames agreed and said that was thepolicy his department has maintained all along.

“I just don’t see where it should be a problem provided everyonecooperates,” he said. “I would ask four-wheeler riders to berespectful and tactful. Be considerate of the landowner andeveryone can enjoy the river.”