BUENA, Wash. – Beatriz Millan, her boyfriend, Roy Ochoa, and some of their family and friends cooled off on a warm afternoon last week with a swim in Buena Pond.
With blue skies overhead, they floated on inner tubes, splashed and wrestled in the shallows of the former gravel pit just north of Interstate 82.
They tried to ignore a pile of litter left earlier by others on the reedy shore. But it was hard to overlook.
“I kicked the dirty diaper,” said Millan, who has been swimming at the pond since she was a little girl. “I probably should have picked it up.”
Litter is just one of the problems at the Buena Pond and a host of recreational areas along ponds and rivers across the Yakima Valley. Nearly all the sites also have issues with vandalism, graffiti and vehicle break-ins.
But problems at Buena Pond have been especially troublesome.
“It’s gotten real bad these past couple years,” said Ochoa, who also grew up swimming in the pond.
The couple live nearby and walk to the pond to swim, picnic and fish about three times a week.
The pond’s two outhouses are covered inside and out with gang tagging and are now bolted shut, after vandals routinely ripped off toilet seats and doorknobs.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife maintenance workers would clean them and the next day it was disgusting, said Leah Hendrix, the regional lands agent for the department, which manages 40 access points to ponds or rivers in four counties.
“It became completely unsanitary for somebody the next day to go in there, open the door and use the bathroom,” she said.
They plan to reopen the restrooms later this month after more maintenance, she said.
Buena Pond has been the scene of drug dealing and car break-ins, said Capt. Richard Mann of the Wildlife Department’s enforcement division.
There haven’t been any reports of assaults or gunpoint robberies, but discarded drug paraphernalia has been found.
“Most of our fishermen won’t use the site in the evening,” he said.
Gangs seems to be behind it more lately, too.
“Gang tagging seems to have gotten elevated,” he said.
That’s why Hendrix, Mann and other wildlife officials steered a Puget Sound nonprofit agency to Buena Pond in an effort to establish some order.
Eyes in the Woods, an Olympia volunteer group that aims to reduce poaching and enhance habitat, plans to install parking lot lights and six cameras at Buena Pond. The cameras alone will cost $1,200, which the group purchased with grant money.
It also plans to organize a community cleanup to paint over graffiti and pick up litter at Buena Pond.
And they will hold trainings for local anglers, swimmers and others to serve as a sort of neighborhood watch. The classes, called Crime Observation and Reporting Training, teach people how to spot illegal activity, such as drug deals or poaching, and get details like license-plate numbers.
“What’s at stake is how badly do we want these public access areas?” said Tony Wells, founding director of Eyes in the Woods. “The citizens have to step up to the plate.”