This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
October 31st, 2005

Problem At Chico Creek

This was an interesting week. The phone rang several times with calls from folks who had been to Chico Creek (Kitsap County, Washington) to see if the Chum Salmon had shown up yet. Very small numbers of fish have appeared, but two large No Trespassing signs did.

The landowner posted No Trespassing signs about eight years ago, and with a bit of digging at the Public Works Department for the Kitsap County, we discovered the country had a 70 foot right-of-way, plus an easement adjoined that which gave the County, the Washington State Fish and Game, (and since it was not posted by the County), the public access to the creek. Fishing in the creek is illegal, but the fishermen walk along the creek to the estuary where fishing is legal. Someone from the County contacted the landowner and the signs were removed. That was eight years ago (give or take a year or two, I'm old so I don't remember everything too well.) The County told us at that time they had to have access to do repairs to the culvert, or for flood control, and yes, the public could use that access.

Fast forward. The signs are back up.

I had not kept the old maps I had, the one time I wasn't a pack rat. So on Wednesday, my husband and I made the trip down to the County Court House, the Public Works Department and began tracking the property lines again. Henry, who had been in charge of the Road Department had retired, and no one had a clue of what we were talking about. To make matters worse, the county had redrawn all the old maps, using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and not only did not County right-of-way not show up, neither did the easement. One of the ladies in the department asked another gal if she could pull up the old maps.

And there it was. Complete with the shoreline, meander line, country access and the easement. We obtained copies of both maps.

Now what to do.

Phone calls went out to the outdoor writer at the Kitsap Sun, who it turns out had also been receiving phone calls on the No Trespassing signs. He had made some phone calls but had no solution. Then, I dialed up the State Fish & Game and eventually the region director. I also called the Sheriff's Department to find out what would happen if the landowner called the Sheriff to have trespassers arrested. It turns out no one would go to jail, and since this is what they call a 'civil matter' the Prosecuting Attorney's office would have to decide to prosecute trespassers or not. Another call went to the County Commissioner who still has not responded.

My hope was to get either the Fish & Game or the County to acquire permanent access and control of the property bordering Chico Creek. Over the month or so the salmon are in the creek, several thousand people either fish there, or just come by to see the wonderful spectacle of the migrating fish. Much too valuable an educational and recreational resource to lose.

Unknown to me, at the same time, Ray Frederick and the Kitsap Pogie Club, which is a very active group of anglers, both spin, bait and fly anglers, were also getting phone calls.

Ray took a different approach. He didn't know about the previous problem, and thought the way to go was to contact the landowner and see why he had posted the signs. It seems the major objection was the amount of trash left behind by the fishermen. Ray's group gave that some thought and contacted a local business, Sportsmen's Warehouse to see if they would help.

Sportsmen's Warehouse agree to fund trash receptacles and signs asking people not to litter and to use the trash receptacles. The Pogie Club members will empty them and in general police the area.

As of yesterday the No Trespassing signs are still up, but people are already fishing there anyway. I'm told the signs will come down by Tuesday and the landowner seems to be a happy camper.

This is a good ending to the problem for this season, but not a complete solution.

I have appointments this week to discuss the state Fish & Game getting the access to keep this from happening in the future. I will also discuss this with the County Commissioner as a back-up plan.

While this was a local problem, I wanted to write about it to let you know there were two very different approaches to the same problem. Mine did work several years ago, and if I had pushed it, would have again - but it was not a permanent solution. The Pogie Club is to be congratulated for getting the job done, but again, still not a permanent solution.

Access to fishing water is a problem everywhere. More and more land is posted, and with the amount of liter we see everywhere, I can't blame the landowners for posting their property. On top of that, with a population believing nothing is their fault, the legal liability on property owners is huge. And to be clear, even if the property is posted as No Trespassing, and someone is injured on that property even though violating the signs, the property owner is still legally liable in this state. (Your state may be different.) The property owner is best served by deeding the property to the state Fish & Game and ridding himself of the problems.

What is the answer?

The more people who get involved the better. Public pressure on state and county government agencies to obtain public access does work. Belonging to and supporting local groups at the grassroots level, in my opinion, is the best way to get action. Perhaps you don't have time to be physically involved, but you can support them through membership in the local organizations.

The old "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" is still true. Make your voice heard. ~ DLB

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