On Friday, a dozen state Department of Fish Wildlife police and Sheriff’s Office deputies went through the 130-acre Fish Wildlife parcel, off the U.S. Highway 101-Morse Creek curve, where even temporary camping is newly banned.
They were told that after Aug. 12, “we have the right to remove your belongings.”
They discovered eight developed, illegal residential campsites, most of which could hold several people.
The officers found a common dumping area with 30 bags of garbage near the entrance of the property, and deeper within the parcel an apparent barter tent with three bike frames and a dozen tires and rims stored inside.
“I want this bike please,” was scrawled on a note laying on the ground outside the tent, next to a bike with a “bike gang” tool seat-pouch.
“I’ll owe you two things you can choose.”
State Department of Fish Wildlife Police Officer Tierra Wessel, left, and Sgt. Kit Rosenberger survey habitat damage to Morse Creek near a homeless camp east of Port Angeles on Friday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Lowery said the property, ribboned with trails trampled by and wide enough for human feet, was purchased in 2002 by Fish Wildlife to protect it from development, provide habitat for urban wildlife and restore salmon- and steelhead-bearing Morse Creek.
Darric Lowery, Olympic area manager for the state Department of Fish Wildlife, examines a social trail that may have been blazed by homeless people through a wildlife preserve in the Morse Creek Valley. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
“This is a big parcel,” Lowery said.
The creek, which begins its journey in the Olympic Mountains and ends it in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, rushes by 100 feet from a campsite.
Strewn about was a metal tire rim-fire pit, a fishing pole, fishing beads, a wetsuit and a four-wheel cart.
Also on the ground was a first-aid kit, broken binoculars, a bow saw for illegally cutting limbs, several 5-gallon buckets often used at such sites for excrement, and a yin-yang sign carved into a tree. Below it was etched a four-letter expletive beginning with “F.”
“I think those two things kind of go against each other,” said Wessel, who was posting what amounted to the eviction notices on the tents.
Rocks had been placed in two small circles in the creek, possibly to capture water to keep food and drinks cold. What appeared to be a roughly constructed fish weir dammed part of the flow.
County sheriff’s deputies walked through the site about 10 days ago, warning occupants of citations for violating a provision in the state administrative code that makes it illegal to establish a camp on Fish Wildlife land for more than 21 days within a 30-day period.
They were discovered July 11 when felony suspect Toka John Lavacca, 40, was chased down and apprehended by sheriff’s Deputy Paul Federline, who helped conduct Friday’s sweep.
Authorities said Lavacca was on the run for two days after pointing a handgun at a couple walking their dog in a nearby neighborhood before he fled and was found at the homeless encampment. Authorities had identified him in court records as a transient.
Lavacca, who has pleaded not guilty, has a Superior Court status hearing Thursday.
Federline said Lavacca was apprehended about 200 yards up a hill from the garbage dump in an area where three campsites were situated. On one was a tent in which six or seven people could sleep.
“He took off running when he saw me,” Federline said.
Federline said the gun Lavacca allegedly wielded has not been recovered.
Federline, who took part in the sweep Friday, said the Lavacca incident was one reason an officer carried an assault rifle.
He said the trail from the campsite leads directly to two known drug houses in the 200 block of Deer Park Road.
The gray tent with bicycle tires and frames inside had a machete with a 16-inch blade laying near a fire pit and two carts nearby.
One plastic-covered shelter had a small abstract painting propped up at the entrance and two books leaning against an inside corner.
The fire pit smelled of recently burned wood.
Wessel, who posted five warning notices on tents Friday morning, said another campsite about 30 feet away had been created by someone who had dug about 6 feet down, breaking visible roots and making a pit large enough to stand upright.
The person topped off the enclosure with a plywood roof.
“You can see all the trash gradually going down the hill as he’s been building,” Wessel said, pointing out an adjacent orange tent that had collapsed.
“This is a little more extensive than we’re used to finding.”
The third site contained a tent big enough for four or five people. Inside was a tiny table in the center. Several shoes and articles of clothing were scattered on the floor.
Outside was a lounge chair. Off to the side, against a tree, a broken toy car pointed downhill.
“Someone is living here.
“This land was not purchased by the public to be used that way.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].