A group of off-road-vehicle users got a rude awakening earlier this month when Bartow County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a Georgia Department of Natural Resources ranger issued them citations for trespassing on private property and operating their vehicles in the Etowah River, according to a Coosa River Basin Initiative press release.
The citations came near the end of a summer in which off-road vehicle users at the U.S. Highway 411 bridge between Cartersville and Rome have become a common sight, angering property owners as well as paddlers and anglers using the river.
A new and little-known Georgia statute signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010 prohibits the operation of motor vehicles in rivers and streams, even when dry. O.C.G.A. § 40-7-4 does allow vehicles to cross stream beds and makes exceptions for law-enforcement and agricultural vehicles. The minimum fine for violating the law is $25.
"The problems at the Etowah River and U.S. 411 have been building for some time,” CRBI Executive Director and Riverkeeper Joe Cook said in a statement. He contacted authorities Sept. 8 after witnessing individuals playing in off-road vehicles and motorcycles in the river.
"The ATV users were tearing up the river banks and spinning their wheels across a rock Native American fish weir at the site," Cook added. "The state law is in place to prevent this kind of abuse. There’s a place for off-road vehicles, but they shouldn’t be run across historic sites and through fish habitat."
Cook says property owners along 411 have long complained of off-road vehicle users trespassing on their property, but this year, thrill seekers began running the vehicles in the river, using the gravel and sandbars and the river’s shallow water as a play place.
"This summer we received several calls at our office from citizens expressing concern about this," Cook said. "Hopefully, these recent citations will help spread the word that our rivers and streams are not open game for off-road vehicles."
CRBI is currently finalizing designs for a new boat launch and parking area on the Etowah at the U.S. Highway 411 bridge. The facility will be built with funds secured by CRBI and leased to the county by the current property owner. Construction is expected to begin in the next six months.