There’s nothing new about the sexual detritus left in the bushes at Spokane’s High Bridge Park.
Discarded underwear, empty lubrication packets and used condoms are only the most visible evidence of public sex acts occurring regularly at the 200-acre city site. In fact, almost no one – from City Council members and park managers to health officials and police officers – disputes that the area has been notorious for lewd activity for years, even decades.
“It’s just kind of one of those knowns in Spokane,” said Spokane Police Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.
But that explanation doesn’t sit well with Ruby La Fleur, 62, a longtime neighbor who said she’s worried about the health effects of the sordid litter – and tired of the people who leave it behind.
“I have grandkids up here,” said La Fleur, who lives just above the park at the confluence of the Spokane River and Latah Creek.
“I don’t want them walking through the bushes, saying ‘Grandma Ruby, what’s that toilet paper? What are those rubber gloves for? What are those pictures?’ “
And La Fleur is not alone. Spokane police have been fielding an increasing number of complaints about the area of High Bridge Park and nearby People’s Park, said DeRuwe.
In the past five years, the department has recorded 27 calls for service involving lewd conduct and 30 calls about suspicious people in vehicles, said Cpl. Tom Lee, police information officer.
Some of those calls have led to arrests, including six in June for lewd conduct.
But that’s only a fraction of the actual illegal behavior that goes on, said La Fleur and a young city parks employee who has been assigned to the area this summer.
In the nearly two months that he’s worked in the park, the 22-year-old caretaker says he has been propositioned by men seeking homosexual sex and witnessed evidence of public sexual activity.
The young man, who asked not to be identified because of fear about his safety, said he has begun warning unwary visitors attracted by the new disc golf course and a new bike trail link.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t let your kids go in there,’ ” said the worker, who also feared jeopardizing his $11-an-hour job.
The young man told his supervisors about his concerns. They advised him to make sure to wear clothing identifying him as a parks employee, said Tony Madunich, assistant parks and recreation manager.
The concerns expressed by La Fleur and the worker are not new, city parks and recreation officials said.
“We’ve been aware of it for a number of years,” said Mike Stone, parks and recreation director.
That view was echoed by Spokane Regional Health District officials, who said there have been no particular public health concerns raised in High Bridge Park.
“It’s something that we’re aware of, but it’s not a new situation,” said Julie Graham, the agency’s spokeswoman. “Risky behavior is risky behavior, wherever it happens.”
Graham noted that she has taken her own children wading near the park and never noticed any untoward behavior.
Parks officials have tried to ameliorate the problem by installing more family-friendly activities, such as the disc golf course, and by encouraging more walking, biking and other positive behaviors, he said.
Parks officials also have cooperated with police for years, including requesting additional patrols when needed.
Six years ago, the last time this subject came up, police were accused of overzealous patrols that unfairly targeted gay men.
At the time, then-Police Chief Roger Bragdon vowed “we will not give up one square inch of city property to known illegal activity.” Now, however, police and city officials said scarce resources limit officers’ response. There are no targeted patrols in the High Bridge Park area, DeRuwe said.
It’s a matter of priorities, said Spokane City Council member Bob Apple. He said he’d prefer to eradicate illicit sex in the park, but added that officials must decide what problems are most pressing. “I would rather they show up to the burglary or the probable theft than to an instance of consensual sex in a public place,” Apple said. “I, like most people, find it disgusting. But what do you do?”
Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at (509) 459-5460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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