It’s an uphill battle that’s been going on for years. Last year, cleanup sessions on Beacon Hill headed by the Fat Tire Trail Riders Club led to 37 abandoned cars being hauled off the mountain. Yet more cars keep coming, along with piles of used tires, old carpet, the occasional used couch and plastic crates filled with all kinds of garbage.
“It’s just awful. There are at least half a dozen cars back up there by now,” said Penny Schwynn, a member of the Beacon Hill Trails Advisory Board and a longtime member of the Fat Tire Trail Riders Club. “We have a big problem with illegal vehicle access – people just go up there and dump stuff.”
On Jan. 22, members of the Beacon Hill Trails Advisory Board headed up the hill to inventory recent trash dump sites and abandoned vehicles.
“They trespass on people’s land, they break down gates from the inside to get access, they tear up the trails – what don’t they do?” said Schwynn.
Beacon Hill is owned by more than a dozen private and public entities – including Avista, the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, Beacon Hill Properties and several individual landowners. The area covers about 950 acres and another access issue has been where people are allowed to hike – it’s not as obvious as it may seem, because trails crisscross property owned by different entities, and some new trails are being constructed by hikers without landowners’ permission.
Some landowners are so frustrated by this that they may simply shut down access to their land.
Fat Tire has worked with landowners to get clear agreements on which trails the public may use, and Schwynn said that most landowners still support public trail access at the popular hiking destination.
“It really is about educating people who hike up there,” said Schwynn.
“What really bothers me is the motor bikes and the four-wheel trucks and stuff – they abuse our property,” said Pete Rayner, owner of Beacon Hill Properties and Event Center. “We are arresting anyone we can catch and we report everyone we see.”
Rayner said off-road vehicles and trucks drive the trails at night.
“They come in from public access somewhere, and then they end up at my event center at 2 a.m. where they put chains to my gates and break them to get out,” Rayner said. He’s lost two custom-built gates on that account.
Rayner, who said he’s owned Beacon Hill for 20 years, said the problem with motorized access has gotten worse over the past 10 years, but he hopes it can be solved.
“There is an educational element that will take us a couple of years to work through, and we are working at more signage and such,” Rayner said. “Our vision is to end up with a park with unlimited pedestrian and bicycle access – that would be very good for us as developers.”
Last year, Fat Tire published a Beacon Hill trail map which can be picked up at local bike shops and outdoor retailers for $8.
The map helps clarify access points and trails, but there’s still little signage on Beacon Hill.
This weekend, Lisa Breitenfeldt, who is a neighbor and the geocaching representative on the Beacon Hill Trails Advisory Board, was there helping a private landowner clean up trash piles.
“This landowner is fine with people using the trails on her property, but she wants people to stay on the trails,” said Breitenfeldt. “People have been building fire pits and cutting down trees on her land, and she’s not OK with that.”
The trails are open for nonmotorized use, but Breitenfeldt and Schwynn said that there are a couple of access points where people get in with motorized vehicles.
“If I see them, I report them to the police,” said Breitenfeldt. “If I feel safe, I try to get a picture of the license plate. Sometimes I approach the driver and talk to them. Sometimes they just don’t know any better.”
Breitenfeldt has lived near Beacon Hill for more than eight years and she said motorized vehicle access is becoming more of a problem.
“Right now we are trying to find funding for getting some barriers put in the right places,” said Breitenfeldt. “And we’re also trying to secure some funding for better signage. That way, people can’t say they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to drive in there.”