- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota officials are cracking down on people who are riding ATVs and dirt bikes on sandbars and beaches, including landowners along the waterways who previously had carte blanche access to state-owned land.

A rule change that goes into effect July 1 will prohibit motorized vehicles along the beds and banks of larger rivers, save a few specific cases, most notably farmers and ranchers who need to fix a fence or round up cattle.

Though the rule applies to all bodies of water that were considered navigable when North Dakota was granted statehood in 1889, officials are mostly targeting the Missouri River. They say the recreational hotspot for boaters, jet skiers and sunbathers is taking a beating from the vehicles, litter, noise and other things that might irritate people who are there to enjoy the setting.

“There are a lot of places to play in the sand,” said Jerry Heiser, sovereign lands manager for the state Water Commission. “The main thing is to not issue a lot of citations, but just keep things safe and clean and enjoyable.”

The reaction to the rule change has been mixed, Heiser said.

“I have heard from some people who obviously don’t like it,” Heiser said. “They say they go from their backyard down from the dock and don’t tear around. As usual, it’s the bad apples that make it tough for everybody.”

Robert Timian, chief game warden for the state Game and Fish Department, which is responsible for policing the sovereign lands, said the change makes the previously difficult enforcement “clear and fair” for everyone.

“The rule didn’t quite match up with the intent originally and now it does,” Timian said. “There are no additional rules for the public themselves.”

Heiser said the old rule was never meant to include all landowners along the buffer zone. That made it tough for authorities to sort out who had legal access to the land.

“When they (police) come ashore and see someone tearing up and down the sandbar with a dirt bike or ATV or whatever the case, typically they scatter like crows,” Heiser said.

The fine for driving a vehicle on sovereign lands is $100, and the other water bodies affected by the rule are: Devils Lake, James River, Knife River, Lake Metigoshe, Sheyenne River, Souris River and Yellowstone River.

The rule does not apply to a popular mile-long Kimball Bottoms area south of Bismarck nicknamed “The Desert,” which has over 400 acres of trails. Kerry Johnson, secretary of the Red River Riders ATV club based in eastern North Dakota, said Kimball Bottoms attracts riders from around the state.

“It’s a great place with the sand and the trails through the trees,” Johnson said. “I think for ATVers, we view it as a privilege and most of us treat it that way. There are only a few who break the rules.”

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