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Property rights are nothing to take lightly

July 19, 2009

The probable cause of losing access to private property for hunting, fishing and other recreational purposes is the abuse of that property. I speak from first hand experience on both sides of the property line.

A long time ago I had permission to hunt some excellent property. My dogs and I could always find plenty of rabbits and pheasants on this property. I always stopped at the house and asked if I could still go hunting. I never assumed that I had permission just because I had hunted there before. This was before Ohio required written permission to hunt.

All went well until the day I was refused permission. The explanation was simple. There was an old farmhouse on the back acreage and someone had shot out the windows. The farmer just felt it was easier to stop all access rather than take time from his work to sort out the real culprit. I was disappointed, but I understood. This was a prime example of one or more inconsiderate characters spoiling it for those of us who respected the landowner.

Later, when I owned property, I saw it even clearer from the farmer's perspective. You should have heard the excuses I got when I confronted a trespasser who was hunting or fishing on my property.

"The guy down the road said it was okay to hunt here". It always turned out they did not know the name of the guys down the road.

The most common excuse was, "I didn't know anyone owned this". Did they see a state game land sign anywhere? This is America. We have private property. Unless it is specified as state or federal property someone owns it.

Once ATVs became popular the trespassing problem increased. Now, I am not an enemy of ATVs. I have owned a neat Arctic Cat and now own a UTV side by side. Used properly these machines are work horses and great fun. Used improperly, they can destroy crops and alienate landowners.

One near tragedy occurred at one of my sportsman's clubs. Lowellville Rod & Gun Club holds regular shoots for military type rifles. The marksmen were shooting from the prone position and, of course, wearing ear protection. They were concentrating on the target and there was no way they could hear the approaching ATV. Fortunately, the range officer saw the vehicle just before it crossed the firing line. Talk about a near death experience.

I no longer own my acreage, but it belongs to my son and I look after it. Was it coincidence that I found ATV damage the day before the Morning Journal published an account of the new ATV trespassing law? If you have an off road vehicle of any type you need to be aware of this law.

The punishment for trespass with an off road vehicle had been doubled to a $500 fine. The judge could also sentence you to 30 days in the slammer. When I was a news photographer I visited a few jails and you do not want to go there. After a third offense the court could impound your vehicle for up to two months. I doubt anyone except those who cause serious damage will feel the full extent of the law on the first offense, but the threat is there and should be heeded.

It must be frustrating to own a brand new ATV and have no place to ride it and I don't have an easy answer for the problem. My first suggestion would be to do what hunters and anglers have done. We have formed clubs and either purchased or leased land where we can hunt and fish. It is a costly solution and we work hard to raise the money to pay off our debts.

You might even find a landowner who will let you ride his property under his terms. You could gain more favor by using your vehicle to help him with his chores. Most farmers I know have and ATV or UTV to use around the farm.

Whether you hunt, fish, hike or ride an off road vehicle, you can have a lot of fun. Just remember that private land is just that; it is private. Respect the landowner and you might be able to gain access to land that has been closed.



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