Off road, off limits
Off-roaders have turned a three-acre patch of Ravensdale Ridge into a play pen, clearing underbrush, cutting deep ruts into the hillside and potentially sending silt into one of Kent's main sources of water.
Broken beer bottles litter the clay and sandy soil, which easily erodes. Someone's failure -- a vehicle hulk -- is pushed off to the side, deep down the hill.
Elsewhere on the ridge east of Maple Valley, a stream was straightened out by heavy equipment of some sort. Everywhere, it seems, vertical rips scar the hillsides under BPA powerlines.
From a distance, a keen eye can see mud jetting in large roostertails from behind off-road vehicles.
It's all being done by trespassers, off-road enthusiasts who have gone around gates or over berms and ignored signs that bar them from the private land.
``I don't like to call them renegades. I think they are uneducated,'' said Arlene Brooks, the Washington state director of the Pacific Northwest Four-Wheel Driver Association. The group has about 1,500 members in the state.
``They are to the point that they don't know where to go,'' Brooks said.That's the problem.
There are no designated areas for off-road vehicles in King County and the legal ones are on public land farther afield, such as Evans Creek on U.S. Forest Service land east of Enumclaw.
And it's unlikely any area will be developed in the county, according to Doug McClelland, district manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
``It's clearly a not-in-by-backyard issue,'' he said.
That leaves places like Ravensdale Ridge and other large tracts of private land in the far reaches of eastern King County, where property owners have a hard time keeping an eye on what's going on.
That land is inviting, especially to those who don't want to drive to Eastern Washington with the bulk of the other west side off-roaders. Many of the areas have unique environmental features that can't stand motorized roughhousing.
Ravensdale Ridge, for example, is east of Maple Valley in the Rock Creek Valley and is important forested habitat for wildlife. The area is undergoing extreme pressure from both developers and recreationists.
Joan Burlingame of Ravensdale has seen the muddy roostertails on Ravensdale Ridge.
She worries about the fate of Crow Marsh below. It's an ancient peat bog that's home to numerous species of amphibians and birds.
The marsh is the outlet for Lake 12, the source of Rock Creek, which supplies Kent with much of its drinking water.
The peat bog will filter out silt, so it won't reach Rock Creek, she said. But eventually the silt will alter and potentially damage the bog itself.
King County bought 28 acres of Crow Marsh in June 2003 for $697,500, as part of an overall plan to keep as much of the Rock Creek Valley as pristine as possible. The county owns a conservation easement on about 1,000 acres in the area.
Much of the forested land in the Rock Creek Valley is owned by Plum Creek Timber and the Weyerhaeuser Co.
Burlingame has confronted off-roaders in the Ravensdale area, asking them to leave. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. She has been threatened.
She and members of the Real Life Church of Maple Valley sank signs saying ``No off-roading'' into cement. They were rammed by trucks and gone in about two weeks.
On the ridge itself is a trout stream, the 31 Man Creek, named for the miners killed in an explosion in the Ravensdale area early in the last century.
Last year, someone straightened about 75 feet of the creek, sending it straight down the hill. ``It's no longer a trout stream,'' Burlingame said.
The solution, she said, is to find another place for the off-roaders.
``The headwaters of a salmon creek is not the appropriate place,'' she said.
She stressed she's not opposed to off-road vehicles.
``I am against them riding on someone's property without their permission,'' she said. She's willing to help off-roaders find an acceptable place to have fun.
Word is getting out that Ravensdale Ridge and other nearby areas are off-limits.
One of the off-roaders Burlingame spoke with on a recent weekend was Joe Bean of Renton, with OOPS Off-Road 2. It draws most of its members from the Renton and Kent areas.
He has gone off-roading in the Ravensdale area for years. Ravensdale Ridge has a lot of ``mudholes,'' he said, but Burlingame said many of those are actually the seeps that feed creeks.
At one time, Bean talked with what he called ``security'' with the Real Life Church, which is buying about 320 acres for a new church. They were told to stay on the main roads, he said.
But the church's project manager, David Hanson, was helping Burlingame put up the no-offroading signs more recently. He said he told Bean that no off-roaders were allowed on the property.
Bean said he has talked to deputy sheriffs, who ``didn't say anything about it being illegal to go back there.'' He even tried to reach Plum Creek, but his calls weren't returned, he said.
Then, the signs went up. ``That's OK,'' Bean said. He put out the word to off-roaders he knows to stay away.
Had he reached someone with Plum Creek, they would have told him that off-roading isn't allowed on company land, according to a company spokeswoman, Kathy Budinick.
``We don't condone that activity,'' she said. ``We have not given permission to people to ride off-road vehicles.''
However, the company does have an open-lands policy for such recreational activity as hiking, biking and horseback riding, she said.
Bean defends his club. ``We do tread lightly when we go out there. We don't want to get into any big nature stuff.''
His club, as well as those clubs that belong to the Northwest association, frequently help maintain trails, pick up garbage and alert police to abandoned vehicles. It has sponsored events for Maple Valley Days.
Many clubs have a handbook of do's and don'ts.
It's that community service that's often overlooked, said the association's Brooks, in discussions about the environmental damage off-roaders supposedly do.
She doesn't condone the rogue off-roaders.
``We don't like this. No. 1 it gives us a bad image,'' said Brooks, who lives east of Auburn.
Bean is scouting places to go where he's welcome. Right now, he's eyeing a piece of industrial land off Southeast 212th Street in the Kent Valley. For years, there was a popular mud hole near the IKEA store in Renton, but it became plagued with illegal dumping.
The dwindling supply of land comes at a time when off-roading is gaining in popularity west of the Cascades, Brooks said. In turn, that puts pressure on Eastern Washington to provide acceptable spots for off-roaders.
Brooks would like to see heftier fines for those who trespass on private property or damage the environment. So would Burlingame. That might get their attention, Burlingame said.
Until then, Brooks will rely on education to get off-roaders to do the right thing.
Many off-roaders, she said, ``don't understand the workings of the environment and the damage that can be done to the resources.''
Burlingame said the faces of the off-roaders are changing, too.
``It's no longer just the yahoos. It's families,'' she said.
A Plum Creek timber resource manager, Lee Spencer, got his first view of the damaged hillsides on Ravensdale Ridge on a tour Friday arranged by the Journal and Burlingame. Spencer had a key to open a gate, but off-roaders simply use other access points to get to the powerlines.
``We aren't happy about it at all,'' he said.
He plans to take a closer look down the hill to see what type of erosion is occurring. It's possible that part of the ridge belongs to Weyerhaeuser.
The state could get involved if it's apparent resources such as water and fish are at risk, he said. Sealing the area of off-roaders will just send the off-roaders -- and the problem -- somewhere else, he said.
Donna Brathovde, who like Burlingame is a member of the Friends of Rock Creek Valley, took pictures of the damage. She frequently hikes on the ridge.
``This is by far the worst on the ridge,'' she said.
Dean Radford covers King County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6719.
The following areas in the state are specifically set up to accommodate off-road vehicles.
* Walker Valley: Seven miles southeast of Mount Vernon. Open all year, weather permitting, during daylight hours. Contact: state Department of Natural Resources, Northwest region, 360-856-3500.
* Tahuya State Forest: Eight miles south of Bremerton. Open all year during daylight hours. No-trespassing and wetland signs are posted on private land. Contact: state Department of Natural Resources, South Puget Sound Region, 360-825-1631.
* Beverly Sand Dunes: One mile east of Beverly on Crab Creek Road (on the Columbia River). 300 acres open all year. Contact: Grant County Sheriff's Office, 509-754-2011, ext. 468.
* Elbe Hills ORV Area: Six miles east of Elbe (west of Mount Rainier National Park) off State Route 706. Open when snow-free. Closed during big-game hunting season. Contact: state Department of Natural Resources, South Puget Sound Region, 360-825-1631.
* Evans Creek: Southeast of Enumclaw and just northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. Open when snow-free. Contact: White River Ranger Station, 360-825-6585
* Liberty: Blewett Pass. Open when snow-free. Contact: Cle Elum Ranger District, 509-852-1100.
* Moses Lake Sand Dunes (Grant County ORV Area): 3.5 miles south of I-90 (exit 174, Moses Lake). 2,000 acres open all year. Contact: Grant County Sheriff's Office, 509-754-2011, ext. 468.
* Seven Mile (Riverside State Park ORV Area): Six miles northwest of Spokane, off Inland Road. 600 acres open all year during daylight hours. Contact: Riverside State Park, 509-465-5064.
* Twin Sisters: Sixteen miles northwest of Kettle Falls. Open all
year. Contact: Three Rivers District, 509-738-7700.-- Source: Pacific
Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association Web site: www.pnw4wda.org/
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