Roads closed on Deming Mountain after increase in illegal activities

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Cory McDonald, Owner Forester for the Northwest Region of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, examines trash left on Sumas Mountain in Deming during a visit Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Cory McDonald, Owner Forester for the Northwest Region of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, examines trash left on Sumas Mountain in Deming during a visit Wednesday, Aug. 3.

The Bellingham Herald

Weaving through the steep slopes of Sumas Mountain in Deming is marked by deep gashes in the mud, leaving scars across the landscape.

Burnt plastic and discarded clothes stain the roadsides. Beyond the leaf litter, dense forests leave little light except in tunnels dug into the brush.

Sumas Mountain was once a place where people could drive recreational vehicles on a scenic route. Now, an infestation of illegal dumping, shooting and trail building has closed a historic recreation area to motor vehicles. The door will remain closed until September 1.

The 14,000 acres are managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and are used primarily for timber harvesting. Lumber sales support the work of the DNR and provide funds to universities and school systems.

As a secondary purpose, the land is used for scattered recreation. According to posted guidelines, visitors are permitted to camp, hunt, hike and bike on the grounds. For a time they were also allowed to use motorized vehicles on designated roads built by the DNR.

In mid-July, the DNR was forced to close the area to motorized vehicles after an increase in land destruction and illegal dumping.

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Rubbish is strewn across Sumas Mountain in Deming on Wednesday August 3. The illegal dumping, shooting and trail construction caused the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to close the historic recreation area to motor vehicles until September 1. Zach Kortge The Bellingham Herald

Chris Hankey, Baker District Director for the DNR, was one of the officials who showed the Bellingham Herald many of the locations where illegal activity was taking place.

“We are just not equipped to deal with the abuse (of the land),” he said during a tour of the mountain.

Hankey said there has been an increase in activity since the pandemic began as people look for things to do. The significant increase in activity caused additional damage.

“We recognize that this is a relatively small percentage of the community (causing the damage),” Cory McDonald, owner ranger in the Northwest region, said during the tour.

Illegal trails off the main road cause geographic and environmental problems, Hakey said. One concern for the area is sediment from illegal trails flowing into fish-bearing waterways, along with pollution from tires and other vehicle residue.

Before closing the gate and banning motorized vehicles, the DNR had posted signs throughout the road network encouraging drivers to stay only on designated roads. Additionally, dams using felled trees and dirt have been used to cut off access to illegal trails. When the dams were destroyed and individuals continued to make their way, rocks and logs were used to block the trail.

In all, the DNR spent $10,000 on clearing and blocking the trails. Money Hackey said it could have been used for other efforts through DNR.

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Tires are among the rubbish strewn across Sumas Mountain in Deming on Wednesday August 3. The illegal dumping, shooting, and trail construction caused the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to close the historic recreation area to motor vehicles until September 1. Zack Kortge The Bellingham Herald

“We just need more to deal with vandalism and litter,” he said.

However, the illegal construction and use of trails are far from the park’s only problems. DNR police officer Greg Erwin said bullets landed on the roofs of houses hitting DNR property. Other issues have included the illegal dumping of animal carcasses on property, including into running water.

Neighbors discussed the possibility of a volunteer program to monitor and mitigate some of the damage. Officials said they were working with the groups to build partnerships.

The door will reopen from September 1 to December 31. Meanwhile, MNR officials said they will monitor further damage in the area. Until then, the land remains open for recreation outside of motorized vehicles.

“We have to consider what we are leaving for future generations,” Hackey said.

Zach Kortge is an intern at the Bellingham Herald. He graduated from Central Michigan University where he studied neuroscience, psychology and journalism.

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