By Chris Collins
The tradition of heading for the river to beat the heat is causing a stir in a southeast Baker City neighborhood this summer.
Police Chief Wyn Lohner was called to the area of Wade Williams Park last week when the conflict between property owners and interlopers hit the boiling point.
While Wade Williams is a hub of activity during Little League season, by late summer it is used through special arrangement with the Elks Lodge by visiting lodge members and other community groups and fraternal organizations, said Harvey Cookson, Baker lodge secretary.
In the past, the lodge has had little concern about those who also use the park to put their inner tubes in the Powder to float through town en route to a takeout spot down river.
But when a visiting lodge member who had parked his RV at Wade Williams this summer called police "scared for his life," because of suspicious activity and then declined the Baker Lodge's invitation to continue to use the complimentary parking space, lodge members decided changes were needed, Cookson said.
Cathy and Tom Tressler feel the same way about sharing their riverfront property at their home of the past 12 years.
For the first 10 of those years, the couple had few problems with people who sometimes traveled to their property at the extreme south end of Main Street. They didn't mind when others used their stretch of beach that fronts a swimming hole, and only occasionally were required to chase off rowdy late-night skinny dippers.
"I don't blame them for liking it down here," Cathy Tressler said. "I like it, too, and so does my husband."
The increased traffic at first only cut into the Tresslers' fishing success. The family, which includes three grown sons, had been known to pull 20-inch trout from the river in the past, when the only disturbance was the passing of trains as they traveled over the nearby Union Pacific tracks.
But more serious problems began developing last summer and have become intolerable this summer, Cathy Tressler said while conducting a tour of her property last week.
As many as 10 cars have been parked on their property this summer, at times restricting access to her carport and her garage, she said.
Foul language has permeated the air, foul words have been scrawled on tree trunks and foul items have been deposited on the landscape.
"Nobody would have said anything if they had picked up after themselves and not been a general pain in the keister," Cathy Tressler said.
The interlopers on her property have even told her to go back into her house when they were asked to move their vehicles or to leave the property.
"They seem to think they have a God-given-you-can't-take-it-away-from-me right to be here," she said.
That's not true, Lohner said, despite the belief that the riverbank belongs to everyone.
Because the Powder River is not a navigable waterway everything except the water - including the bank and the riverbed - belongs to the adjacent property owners, Lohner said.
The police chief believes the problems in the area this summer are related to action taken in another area of town last summer. That's when access was restricted in the area commonly known as the Boys Jungle along the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway north of D Street.
Like Wade Williams Park and the Tressler property, many people believed the Boys Jungle was owned by the city and was open to anyone who wanted to travel through the area. None of those areas is public property and access is granted only by permission of the owners, Lohner said.
Cathy Tressler said she worked all morning on Aug. 13-14 to clean up messes left by interlopers on her property. On the morning of Aug. 15, the Tresslers posted signs stating that there is no public access to the river through their private property.
By noon the signs were torn down. And a barricade the Tresslers installed had been moved.
"It was bad last year, but this is worse," Cathy Tressler said.
As a result, they will be installing more signs and more barricades to restrict access and they will call police when necessary.
The Elks Lodge also plans to increase signage around the park, making it even more clear that Wade Williams is private property and that trespassers will be prosecuted, Cookson said.
"What we've heard is, 'It's Elks property; it's open to the public,' " he added.
And because the park also has been plagued by littering, graffiti and disturbances caused by unruly trespassers, the Elks Lodge board is considering ways to keep unauthorized users out of Wade Williams.
The board, which will meet again on Sept. 11, might install a chain link fence around the perimeter of the park with some type of wire over the top to make it difficult to climb over, Cookson said.
While touring the area Wednesday, Lohner advised eight young people who put inner tubes in the river at Wade Williams that they were trespassing and they should make other float plans in the future.
About 25 people were gathered at Central Park in midafternoon seeking heat relief in the river. One young man asked Lohner when Wade Williams would be re-opened, which gave the police chief the opportunity to inform the crowd that it actually never had been open.
Lohner acknowledges that only a small group of people are causing trouble by trespassing on private property, but everyone will suffer the consequences of the closures.
"There is a certain group of citizens who like private, hard-to-see-in areas," he said, and they are drawn to areas like the Boys Jungle, the Tressler property and the back side of Wade Williams.
"People who have used these areas for years take it personally," Lohner said.
Once the new no-tresspassing signs are up and the community is educated about the planned restrictions, police will begin enforcing the trespassing laws in those areas.
Lohner has what he believes is a perfect solution for those who simply want an easy entry and exit for floating the river.
"It's a nice float from Central Park to Hughes Lane," he said, where access for the beginning and the end of a float trip can take place at city parks along the pathway and do not require trespassing on private property.