0531ATVaudHall County park ranger Andre Niles talks about the problems with ATVs in county parks.
When people buy a new all-terrain vehicle, they often don’t consider that there’s no place in Hall County, other than their own yard or a friend’s property, where they can legally ride.
Andre Niles, park ranger superintendent for Hall County Parks and Leisure, said he’s tired of hearing the roar of ATVs in county parks, where all motorized off-road vehicles are prohibited.
"It happens almost every day, even in the winter. In fact, the worst time is right after Christmas," he said.
The most recent incident happened Thursday, when Niles was called to Tadmore Park.
"These people had kids riding with no helmets, no protective gear whatsoever," he said. "They had probably a 9-year-old riding a big 650 (cubic centimeters, a measure of engine capacity), something to where if she hit that throttle one hard time, she’s going off the back of it."
On May 19, a 7-year-old boy died near Braselton while riding in an ATV driven by a 10-year-old girl.
Unlike many states, Georgia has no minimum age requirement for operating ATVs, and no helmet law. But ATV manufacturers recommend an engine size no larger than 50cc for young children and 90cc for ages 12 to 16.
Because there is no law, Niles can’t cite anyone for underage driving or lack of a helmet. But he can nab them for violating park regulations.
"All of our parks have signs that say ‘no motorized vehicles,’ and most of them specify no ATVs," he said.
But visitors continue to ride in the parking lots, on the walking trails, sometimes on the ball fields. "It’s not just Tadmore. It’s Laurel Park, Clarks Bridge, basically every park we have that’s close to a subdivision," Niles said. "And Cedar Creek reservoir. That’s where we have the biggest problem, because the ATVs cause so much erosion."
Niles said he tries to educate visitors about the rules and usually gives them a warning first.
"If they become real belligerent, I will write them a citation. That way they can tell the judge their opinion."
Niles said he hears all kinds of arguments, including "I had no idea (about the rules)" and "I’m a taxpayer."
"But if they’re letting a child ride, there’s not even a question. I’m writing a citation," he said. "I’m praying to God I never see a child get hurt."
Essentially, there are only two types of places in Georgia where ATVs can be legally operated, other than the owner’s property. A number of private property owners open up their land to ATVs, charging a user fee. And North Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest allows ATVs, but only on designated trails and in certain areas.
The vehicles are also illegal in Georgia state parks, but that law is frequently ignored.
"It’s a problem at Amicalola because we have dirt roads that start on Forest Service property and continue onto our property," said Bill Tanner, superintendent at Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville. "Interestingly enough, ATVs are also illegal on that part of the national forest, but people do it anyway."
And Tanner said it doesn’t happen just in remote areas. Some ATV users are fairly brazen about it.
"We’ve had them riding on the slope right behind the (Amicalola) lodge, tearing up the turf," he said.
Niles said he’d like to ask a question of any parent who’s thinking about purchasing an ATV:
"Why buy it if you don’t have anywhere for that child to ride it?"