Missoula County authorities turned away more than a dozen ATV riders on Sunday in the Deep Creek area west of town as part of a continuing effort to curb illegal motorized vehicle use that's been scarring the landscape for years.
"There has just been so much damage to the resources," said Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin. "You can pull up images on Google Earth and see the impact. It looks like a spider web. That's all from dirt bikes. To me it's pretty impressive that we have so much resource damage that you can see it from a satellite."
McMeekin said motorized vehicle use on the hillsides along Deep Creek Road has been going on for years. But recently, Plum Creek Timber Co., which owns the land, has decided to prohibit motorized vehicle use.
Although no citations were issued Sunday, McMeekin said the extra patrols are part of a continuing effort. If people continue to break the law, there will be consequences, he said.
"We will continue to work with people but we will also get increasingly vigilant about writing citations for those who don't get the picture," McMeekin said.
Landscape scientists say the streams and rivers in that area have been badly trampled and the damage is severe, and ask ATV users to check in with local ranger stations to learn where they can legally use their off-road vehicles.
McMeekin said offenders who continue to violate the rules will be cited for criminal trespassing and even vandalism in some cases.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at email@example.com.