The citations for ATV-operating restrictions were issued Sept. 8 by Deputy Todd Roberts of the Bartow County Sheriff’s Department near the end of a summer during which off-road vehicle operators were seen with increasing regularity near the U.S. 411 bridge between Cartersville and Rome.
Robert William Wight Jr., 22, of 187 Gentry Road, Kingston, received a citation, as did Michael D. Rittenhouse, 39, of 288 Smith Road, Rome. The men were accompanied by a number of juveniles who were passengers in their vehicles.
Former Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a law years ago that forbids operation of motor vehicles in rivers and streams, even when dry. The law does allow vehicles to cross streambeds 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,” said Joe Cook, executive director and riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative.
Cook personally contacted the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office after witnessing individuals playing in off-road vehicles and motorcycles in the river on Sept. 8.
“The ATV users were tearing up the river banks and spinning their wheels across a rock Native American fish weir at the site,” Cook said. “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 said that the CRBI office in Rome got numerous calls throughout the summer from citizens expressing concern about the off-road-vehicle activity. Calls came from adjacent property owners, canoers, kayakers and fishermen.
“Hopefully, these recent citations will help spread the word that our rivers and streams are not open game for off-road vehicles,” Cook said.
CRBI is currently finalizing designs for a new boat launch and parking area on the Etowah at the U.S. 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.