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Lake Mitchell torn up by four-wheel drive vehicles

Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek points out one of several areas damaged this year by four-wheel drive vehicles at Lake Mitchell. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

Dusty Rodiek looked with disappointment at the many trails of tire tracks snaking through patches of wet, muddy ground near roads and boat ramps as he drove around Lake Mitchell Friday morning.

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The tracks, which are the result of four-wheel drive vehicles being haphazardly driven off the roads around the lake, have become an increasingly common problem this year, said Rodiek, the city's parks and recreation director. In a few areas, large sections of ground that are criss-crossed with tire tracks from four-wheel drive vehicles have been torn and eroded.

"It's just a muddy, unsightly, ugly mess," Rodiek said in an interview Friday with The Daily Republic.

Though Rodiek said it's unclear exactly why the problem seems to have become more common this year, he made one thing totally clear -- anyone who takes part in such behavior is essentially committing an act of vandalism.

"It's not a lot different than if someone spray painted the side of a restroom or took a sledgehammer to a picnic table," he said

Often, it's an ongoing problem throughout the spring and summer, Rodiek said.

"It's frustrating," he said. "We're trying to provide a good product for the public."

Given all the steps needed to repair the damaged areas -- hauling in dirt, leveling the ground and reseeding grass -- the cost is often in the thousands of dollars, Rodiek said.

"That's money right there that won't be spent on other improvements," he said.

Fencing has been installed in certain areas damaged in the past to keep vehicles from accessing the areas at all. It's an undesirable solution, Rodiek said, because it adds to maintenance costs and hurts the visual appeal of the area.

In addition to the cost, the process of repairing the damaged areas takes time, and often means temporarily closing them to members of the public, the vast majority of whom are not responsible for the problem, Rodiek said.

"We're just really asking that if the public sees something like this, go ahead and call the police department," he said.

If possible, anyone who witnesses such behavior should note the license plate of the vehicle and get a description of the driver for law enforcement, according to Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg.

Anyone caught driving off the roadway can be ticketed and fined $120, Overweg said.

"It's been a problem for a lot of years, but it seems like in the spring that it always gets worse," he said. "We would just like to remind people they can't drive off the roadway."

As the weather gets warmer, Overweg said police will increase the number of patrols near Lake Mitchell in an effort to combat the problem.

"We will be watching for it," he said.