ATVs in the river

Thursday, June 23, 2005

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

There's an old saying in rural, job-starved Missouri: "You can't eat scenery." As a matter of fact, scenery feeds a lot of Missouri families these days. ...

It accounts for nearly one-tenth of the state's jobs ... and the number keeps growing. ...

Many of the tourists who bankroll those jobs visit Missouri to fish or float in its network of clear, spring-fed rivers. Unfortunately, as the Post-Dispatch ... documented last week, others come to ride their all-terrain vehicles through those very same streams and rivers. That's a problem.

Riding ATVs is fun ... But stream-riding isn't safe or responsible.

When ATVs and off-road vehicles race through rivers and streams, they churn up silt and create stress for fish populations. Turtles, snakes and water birds are dependent on the fish population and need protected places to breed and raise their young. ATV riders also make it impossible for fishermen and floaters to enjoy the scenic beauty they have come to experience.

... When visitors start thinking they no longer can enjoy Missouri rivers because ATV riders are tearing them up, they'll stop coming. That would be a serious economic blow to small towns and businesses across our state.

That's why it's illegal to ride motor vehicles through streams for recreation in Missouri. ... Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped the practice. ATV riders also use a legal loophole that allows them to ride at established crossings. ...

Last month ... only 13 citations were issued to people driving through the Black River, one of the state's clearest and best-loved streams. But the fine ... doesn't deter drivers. Local sheriffs also say they lack the manpower to consistently focus on people riding ATVs in streams.

... The fine for riding through streams is too low. The Legislature should increase it and set even higher penalties for repeat offenders. ... Second, sheriffs and conservation officers could be working more closely to stop those who flout the law. ...

But perhaps the most important step officials can take is to involve local trail riding groups. Those who regularly ride in Missouri can offer suggestions about where and when to conduct enforcement actions. They also can spread the word ... that stream riding threatens more than just fish; it threatens our neighbors' livelihoods.

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