A great deal of activity behind the Jedediah Smith Shopping Center is not a construction project, but a joint effort of several local agencies to clean up debris, vehicles, RVs and illegal homeless campsites on two properties there.
City Manager Eric Wier said almost all city and county service agencies were involved and people who were living back in the trees were given adequate notice to vacate. He said when officers have responded to calls in the area in the past few weeks, they have been notifying people of the impending cleanup, and that the property was posted almost two weeks ago.
“We know the message must have been received because there were very few people there when we went in,” Wier said.
For those displaced persons, Wier said several city and county agencies from the City Housing Authority to Veteran’s Services, were also ready to help but, to his knowledge, no one took advantage of the offers on the first day.
The Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services stood ready to offer help to anyone who might have been displaced by the cleanup or needed crisis help, referrals or counseling. DHHS Director Heather Snow said since notice to vacate had been given some time before the cleanup, most people were out of the area when it began.
Snow said often when people live in such conditions, their personal paperwork, identification and other files become lost or destroyed, and DHHS was ready to assist in recovering that information.
“We’re always happy to partner with the City or County when they are doing these things, to make services available to those who need them,” Snow said. “There’s also a misconception that we only help people who walk through our front door and that’s not the case. We stay available for the community.”
To reach DHHS staff, call 707-464-3191
Wier said other assistance came from the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and county code enforcement. Northcrest Towing removed several burned vehicles from the site.
Wier said the cleanup is expected to last through next week and Alder Camp Crews will be cutting back vegetation to discourage further illegal camping.
Alder Camp Lt. Waylon Hanks said a single crew of 14 inmates worked in the area Thursday, and two crews per day were expected to start working Friday. He said the full commitment for the camp was scheduled to be two weeks, but that may be reevaluated as the effort continues.
“There’s a lot of junk back there,” he said. Alder Camp fire captains are overseeing the work and Crescent City Police will be on scene as backup.
The wooded area behind the shopping center reaches back almost three miles between Parkway Drive and Elk Valley Road. Wier said the cleanup and clearing will be limited to property within the city limits.
What they found
Each camp connects to a trail that leads to another clearing, containing another campsite and so on back into the trees. As of Thursday, piles of garbage were scattered along trails and in some areas, shipping pallets were being cut up for firewood.
While some sites contained dilapidated RVs, others had tarpaulin tents and others were strewn with garbage. One item was common in all sites — bicycle parts. Frames, tires, bars, goosenecks, seats, forks and tubes could be found in every site, scattered along trails and overgrown in deep grass. As with other recently cleaned up sites near South Beach and Elk Valley Road, stripped bicycle frames could be found in piles next to camp sites. In one site, a bag of assorted tools lay on the ground next to a half assembled hybrid bike that had been spray-painted black and contained parts from a nearby pile.
Kim Floyd, manager at Del Norte County Fairgrounds, was on scene Thursday morning as RV trailers, burned vehicles and appliances were being hauled out of the site.
As a neighbor to the property, the fairgrounds sees a lot of trespassing and theft, as indicated by many of the items found in the campsites.
Fairgrounds maintenance worker Nick Wier walked with Floyd and pointed out several items that had been stolen from the fairgrounds, including wall-mounted lights, christmas decorations, furniture and fairgrounds signs. Floyd said other property such as lumber, pallets, fencing, scrap metal and tarps are stolen regularly.
At one point, she noted a wheelchair believed to have been taken from the fairgrounds that had been partially burned in a fire pit in one of the clearings.
Noting an instance at the start of winter, Floyd spoke of how someone broke into a tack shed and used a box knife to cut a horse blanket right off the horse and steal it.
Floyd said she was fortunate to have Wier there, as he knows the trail system and has experience with people who have lived in the woods. Wier pointed out a pile of what looked like car batteries on a tarp along a trail, noting the special terminal connectors.
“These were stolen from our golf carts,” he said.
Floyd said the fairgrounds hopes to install cameras and lighting soon.
The cleanup is taking place on properties owned by the fairgrounds, Department of Fish and Game, and the former mill site, owned by McNamara and Peepe, which was ordered to be cleaned up on Feb. 14.
Wier asked that residents stay out of the area while cleanup is taking place.