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Rural Life Isn’t All Peace and Quiet

August 6, 2008

By Kathie Durbin, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Aug. 6–LIVINGSTON MOUNTAIN — When Tom and Toni Hyde fled Camas’ Prune Hill neighborhood four years ago, they were looking to escape the noise and crime of the city for the calm of country life.

They bought a house in the forested hills near Livingston Mountain, on the edge of the Yacolt Burn State Forest. They planted a big lawn and landscaped a portion of their 7 acres, leaving the rest in native vegetation.

They didn’t know the mountain road that passed their house led to the largest off-road dirt-bike playground in the metro area. Jones Creek, managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, offers 13 miles of loop trails for motorcycles.

Most people who ride the Jones Creek ORV Area trails act responsibly, said DNR District Manager Eric Schroff. “Five percent creates 85 percent of the problem.”

But the remote area, studded with gravel pits and old logging roads, also draws underage drinkers, poachers and people who like to shoot up gravel pits and start illegal bonfires.

Tom Hyde wasn’t prepared for the weekend traffic. “It really picks up when the weather gets warm,” he said. “We’ll see 100 cars a day.” He could live with that. He could even live with the bullet-riddled road signs and the carcasses of poached deer left in the ditches.

Last October, though, a joy-rider in a truck took a detour through his new lawn at 2 a.m., kicking up sod, breaking sprinkler heads and leaving deep ruts. Hyde said it happened not once but at least three times in two months.

The first time, he was away on business in Phoenix when his frightened wife called to tell him she wanted to put the house on the market. On another occasion, the Hydes gave chase and got the vehicle’s license plate number.

They called the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and provided the information. When deputies failed to locate the driver, the Hydes hired a private detective, who quickly located him. The young man told them he thought it was a field.

“Him mistaking my yard for a field would be like mistaking a field for a jet landing strip,” Hyde said.

Eventually, the man was charged with second-degree malicious mischief.

The Hydes, meanwhile, spent $4,600 to fence their yard and more to replace a wide swath of turf.

The Livingston Mountain area is dotted with hundreds of high-end houses, including gated communities tucked back in the woods. Law enforcement officials admit there’s no way they can adequately patrol the remote area.

The Department of Natural Resources has one enforcement officer to cover five Western Washington counties. The sheriff’s office has one deputy to cover 45 square miles of the county’s rural far east end.

Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Bieber says it’s hard to respond promptly to calls of crimes in progress in the county’s outback.

“To catch these people, you would have to be there when it’s occurring,” he said. “If you get there and there’s no suspect information, there’s not much we can do.”

Still, Bieber said he understands the frustration of people like the Hydes.

“The citizens that live in the most remote areas of the county in all reality probably do receive less service because there isn’t as much of a call load,” he said. “It’s kind of a trade-off for living out there.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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