MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Deputies said they are planning patrols on certain Northeast Madison County mountains to prevent a big gathering of ATV enthusiasts known as the Easter Ride, and the patrolling will continue after Easter.
The Easter Ride, said Lt. Donny Shaw of the Madison County Sheriff's Office, was once something the landowners and their friends did every Easter weekend. They would take their all-terrain vehicles (ATV's) on the private roads for fun and adventure.
But in a short time, it became more well-known, sometimes attracting hundreds of people underneath TVA power lines at the Madison County-Jackson County line. That's when Shaw said law enforcement really cracked down.
"With the extra attendance came some property damage, some theft from cabins, drug paraphernalia being left behind. We know of one person who died in an ATV accident. The landowners were concerned for liability and loss of their property. They asked us to intervene," Shaw said.
Shaw showed us areas where No Trespassing signs had been ripped down or damaged. This is the kind of thing they are trying to prevent.
Friday through Sunday, deputies will have a presence on Coal Mine, Bingham, and Bice Mountains where they see the Easter Ride taking place. Shaw said while the trails are public roads (and traffic laws are enforceable), they say areas past gates and near cabins are private property and people who go up there are trespassing.
"Whenever they leave the road past the gate, they're trespassing," he said. "This whole intent isn't to prevent people who have an authorization or legal reason to be there. If they have what they're supposed to have to go up, by all means, enjoy their property or the property they've been invited to. But the people who are not authorized to go up or the people who have gone up and stolen things or caused property damage, we want to stop that."
Lt. Shaw said there is real risk in doing this Easter Ride.
"If you get up here and you're injured, and you're all the way up or halfway up, your telephones aren't working. There's not very many places that are open enough to land a helicopter to evacuate you," he explained.
Traffic may be dwindling over the years, but these issues still remain each year Shaw said. He said the goal is to prevent any other injuries or deaths.
"They may feel that they're at a level where they can continue to operate a vehicle but if you've had anything... We don't want to take a chance of you being injured or injuring somebody else," said Shaw.
The sheriff's office isn't losing any patrol officers from the street for the effort.
"We understand our patrol deputies are important to their normal routine. They are not going to be affected," he said. "We have reserve deputies that are volunteers that will be manning these positions and doing these patrols. There will be some other deputies that come in to help that effort."
"You can go do the same thing that you can here. They have medical people on staff. they have water. They have places to park that you're not parking illegally. It's a good environment to have a good time and not taking the risk or doing anything illegal," he said.