Gresham nature area closed to public due to destruction - KPTV - FOX 12

Gresham nature area closed to public due to destruction

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A section of fence bordering the area known as Gresham Woods. (KPTV) A section of fence bordering the area known as Gresham Woods. (KPTV)

The City of Gresham has closed a 60-acre nature park to the public because it’s been heavily damaged by people camping in the woods, leading to concerns over the environment as well as public health and safety.

The natural resources area known as “Gresham Woods” is nestled just off the Springwater Trail, bordered by SW Pleasant View Drive, SW 14th Drive and SW Towle Avenue.

It was closed in mid-February in an emergency order from the City Manager.

City code GRC 7.10.130 allows such a move “for protection of public health, safety or welfare and/or protection of parks, trails or open space.”

City spokesperson Elizabeth Coffey tells Fox 12, city leaders and volunteers have invested a lot of time and resources in the area, restoring the habitat and removing invasive species. $350,000 in city, state and federal funds have been spent over the last 15 years to that end.

But now, the area is being destroyed at such a rate, crews simply can’t keep up. It will be closed to the public until further notice, and anyone caught trespassing could be arrested and prosecuted.

“It’s just ridiculous how much money has been spent on natural resources and it’s getting destroyed faster than we can afford to pay for it,” neighbor Terry Shumway told Fox 12.

The nature area is one of the reasons Shumway moved to the neighborhood some 20 years ago.  But as the Safety Committee Chair of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, she has seen first-hand many of the problems people camping in the area have left behind. 

She’s concerned not only about trees and plants being cut down and destroyed due to foot traffic, but also the piles of clothing and garbage that are accumulating in the woods.

“Just the waste on the trail – I mean some of it, they have to have hazard materials people pick it up,” Shumway said.  “[The campers] use paint buckets for toilets and then throw them into Johnson Creek.  It’s pretty disgusting.”

Neighbors say overall, the culprits aren’t people who are homeless and looking for shelter, they’re people who are defiant about claiming the space as their own, and regularly threaten people on the trail and homeowners living nearby.

One man told Fox 12 the campers threatened to kill him and his wife.

Gresham Police have been called to the area dozens of times for gunshots and fights, and even found a registered sex offender living in the woods near a girl.

“We’re only talking about the most violent, law-breaking people who are on drugs,” Shumway added.  “There’s prostitution, they steal from people…. It’s just a really sad situation.”

An orange fence has been installed around the nature area, along with signs notifying people of the emergency closure and that they could face arrest and prosecution for trespassing.

But already, a significant section of the fence has been knocked down by vandals.

Now, Gresham Police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible.

“These fencings they’re putting up, when I first saw it the other day I just laughed because it’s so inadequate,” said one woman on the trail, who asked that her name not be used.  “Anybody that is a rebel with or without a cause is knocking down the fence just because it’s put up and keeping them out.  This is not going to work.”

The City of Gresham says it is looking at other options for barriers and police will have an increased presence along the trail to help enforce the closure.

Vandalized or not, Terry Shumway is thankful the new fence is there.

“Even if it’s broken down, it’s there, it’s posted, you can read it.  If I go over it, if you go over it, we could be arrested or given a ticket,” she said.  “So people may think of it as a Band-Aid, but it’s not.  It’s a start.”

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