New law settles old ATV dispute

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 12, 2002

MONTICELLO — A long-standing dispute between all-terrainvehicle (ATV) riders and landowners along the Fair River wassettled by the legislature in a law that went into effect thismonth.

Senate Bill 2835 made it illegal for ATV riders to traversepublic waterways without written permission from the landowner.Violators of the new law will be treated as trespassers, accordingto Maj. Steve Adcock of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries andParks.

Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames said the law has put to restthe controversy surrounding Fair River as a public or privatewaterway and its legality as a place for ATV riders to enjoy ridingalong the streambed.

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ATV riders have long claimed that Fair River was a publicwaterway and, as such, it was legal for them to ride along thestreambed.

“That doesn’t matter now,” Thames said. “Whether public orprivate, the law makes it illegal for them to do so without writtenpermission from the landowner.”

The DWFP will be the primary enforcement arm of the new law,Thames said, “because they are already in the woods,” but thesheriff’s office would answer any calls made concerning ATV riderstrespassing on private party, which now includes thestreambeds.

The sheriff’s office will also cite violators as trespassers,Thames said.

“I don’t consider trespassing an arrestable offense by itself,”except in certain situations, Thames said.

Thames said cases where landowners are upset by the noise of ATVriders on a neighbor’s property should be handled “neighborly.”

“The county doesn’t have a noise ordinance so the landownerswill have to cooperate among themselves,” Thames said.

In the past, landowners have also complained of ATV riderslittering and drinking alcohol while riding.

Thames said that although he expects much less of that under thenew law because of the need to obtain written permission, thesheriff’s office would continue to enforce these laws.

“We will be looking out for any driving under the influence,littering, etcetera,” he said. “We’ll try to keep a keen eye onthat.”

The sheriff said he was unaware of complaints from somelandowners who claim other landowners are selling their writtenpermissions to ride Fair River on their property. Regardless, hesaid, the law does not address the issue of selling permission andtherefore nothing in the law makes it illegal.

“If this is a legitimate landowner, it would be the same asselling or leasing hunting rights on their property,” Thames said.”For example, many people charge $25 a day to allow hunters ontheir property for a dove shoot.”

The law went into effect July 1, according to Adcock.