New Georgia law bans riding ATVs in riverbeds.

Terry Dickson and Walter C. Jones wrote for the Florida Times-Union Saturday, May 22, 2010, New Georgia law bans riding ATVs in riverbeds,

The measure should increase safety and reduce environmental damage.

Riding all-terrain vehicles in stream beds is against the law in Georgia with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s signature on legislation Friday that has been long sought by environmentalists, property owners and safety advocates.

House Bill 207, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Sims, R-Ambrose, received just 14 no votes in the House and only one in the Senate. An undertaker by profession, Sims said he was motivated by the number of children killed in off-road-vehicle accidents.

But fans of trail riding fought the bill because it will curtail their experience.

It was one of 67 bills signed by the governor Friday.

The law, which takes effect immediately, prohibits motoring along stream beds, even if they are dry. It does allow vehicles to cross stream beds and makes exceptions for law-enforcement and agricultural vehicles.

Satilla Riverkeeper Bill Miller said Perdue’s signature on the bill is great news.

“It’s been a long, uphill battle,” Miller said. “A lot of people got on board the past year to push it through.”

Gordon Rogers, the man Miller replaced and who is now the Flint Riverkeeper, argued for the bill several years ago.

At first he said the banks and river bottoms of the Satilla, the Ohoopee and streams like them needed protection from erosion caused by people riding four-wheelers. When that failed, Rogers and other supporters tried a new avenue – the protection of private property – one that Miller said drew more support.

“It’s a big trespassing and liability issue for property owners,” he said.

When the water level is low, four-wheeler owners access the river at public boat ramps and bridges, ride the sand bars and shallow waters and then ride up the banks to trespass on private property, he said.

“The river corridor is just like a highway to them. It’s amazing what people think their rights are,” he said.

The new law will also protect the environment, he said.

“Once we start cutting trails, the water starts following those trails and it increases erosion,” he said.

Miller said he is hopeful that local law enforcement will keep watch on river access points to catch violators.

The minimum fine is $25 but those fined will not be guilty of a crime.