Vandalism mars Quartzville corridor

Beer bottles and other trash are scattered about the ground as Corps of Engineers Ranger John Sandberg pulls his pickup truck off the roadway and onto a camping site along the Quartzville corridor.

The site is just one of dozens along the dispersed camping area which the public is allowed to enjoy free of charge.

“Isn’t this a shame?” Sandberg says as he walks about the area, taking special note of burned out firework containers.

Sandberg, a Corps of Engineers employee for some 24 years, says vandalism and safety issues are becoming increasingly severe in the corridor. During last week’s Fourth of July celebration, numerous live trees were chopped down for firewood or scarred to the point that they will soon die.

It isn’t just the trees and debris, Sandberg said the Corps recently placed several concrete picnic tables near Foster dam. The extra-heavy units cost taxpayers $780 each. One unit has already been destroyed by persons using heavy rocks.

“Foster Lake was packed on the Fourth of July,” Sandberg said. “Fortunately, the Corps has been teaching a water safety course to elementary students in Linn, Lane and Marion counties. I think we’ve reached about 5,000 students so far.”

Sandberg pulls near the Foster Lake walking trail, a project spearheaded by Sweet Home’s Barb and Ozzie Shaw. He shakes his head as he looks at large maple trees that have had their burls removed.

“Everywhere we have public access the tree burls have been removed,” he says. “We lost a lot of burls in the Menear’s Bend area this year.”

Sandberg said that as the area’s population and popularity increase, the amount of conflict also rises.

The Corps works closely with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon State Police and private area landowners, Sandberg said.

Even though Corps staff have placed some 50 or more metal fire rings through the Quartzville corridor in recent years, many users simply ignore safety and build their campfires anywhere they want, Sandberg said.

“We’ve also had some of the rings stolen,” he added. “Those things are heavy and in concrete.”

On Wednesday alone, Sandberg found two abandoned campfires, despite the dry weather the area has experienced this year. He has found nine abandoned fires this year.

Several large rocks have had to be painted brown in recent weeks due to gang and drug graffiti being sprayed on them.

“On hot days, it’s like a small city out here,” Sandberg said.

As he drives along the 14 mile corridor, Sandberg comes to an abandoned car. Left along side the road for just two days, the vehicle has already had all its windows smashed out. In a few more days, Sandberg said, vandals will probably light the vehicle on fire.

Even when people try to do the right thing by sacking up their garbage and leaving it near a restroom to be picked up by a contract cleaning crew, problems arise.

Jay Mott, who is on a clean up crew, said can hunters rip open the bags and leave the contents strewn around the area.

“I’ve picked up a lot of paper, trash, even some drug paraphernalia this year,” Mott said.

As Sandberg’s truck passes some teenagers camped beside the roadway, one of the teens jabs at the truck with his hands. Sandberg said on the way back, he’s going to stop and talk to the boys about firework dangers.

In a few minutes, he returns to the area and begins quizzing the teens about the firework debris on the roadway.

At first they say it didn’t belong to them, but change their story when Sandberg points out the firework packages in their campground.

“I just want people to use caution, some common sense when using the public lands,” Sandberg said. “These lands belong to everyone and it’s not right that a few people ruin it.”

Linn County Sheriff David Burright said his department runs saturation patrols in the Quartzville corridor during hot, extended weekends.

“It may not become the biggest city in the county, but the population up there probably equals that of Sweet Home on long weekends,” Sheriff Burright said. “The area is limited for improved campsites. It’s the nature of the territory.”

Sheriff Burright said his department, in cooperation with the Corps and others, has gotten a handle on what had become a bad situation.

“We were losing control at one point,” he said. “It’s not just the corridor. Our timber deputy is busy.”