On a sunny day, a casual stroll on the East Aberdeen Waterfront Walkway beckons many residents.
The 1.6 mile trail weaves along the north side of the Chehalis River beginning just outside of downtown Aberdeen and cuts through Morrison Riverfront Park. The section of the trail located behind the Walmart Supercenter, however, has proven difficult to maintain due to the presence of the homeless population.
Aberdeen Landing, the strip of land behind the mall along the banks of the Chehalis River and primitive boat launch, is owned by the Port of Grays Harbor (PGH). A 2013 easement gave the city of Aberdeen the ability to use the parcel for the waterfront trail, provided that they maintain and ensure the safety of the area.
The area has become popular with campers who tend to congregate around a concrete utility building owned by the Port. Despite the addition of “No Trespassing” signs to the building, the ongoing presence of the homeless population continues to place a burden on trail maintenance.
“There has been excessive trespassing, debris and vandalism around and on the Port’s property, including around the Port utility vault. The vault services the Port-owned Aberdeen Landing dock with power, water and fire protection,” said PGH Business and Trade Development Assistant Shannon Anderson.
While the Port has always had some intermittent issues with vandalism and trespassing, such activity has been “growing steadily” in the past year, she said. This has placed an additional strain on East Aberdeen Waterfront Walkway maintenance required by the city.
“We’re having to do frequent cleanups of that area when those people leave,” said Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Director Stacie Barnum. “The city and the Port are working together to try and improve what’s going on.”
According to Andersen, the Port has received complaints from private residents and city officials regarding the health and safety of those using the trail and visiting the Compass Rose section of the landing, which is an open park area that was placed in honor of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport in 1986.
“The people that use the trail don’t feel as comfortable when they see the encampment,” said Barnum. “It also creates a lot more garbage and drug paraphernalia. So we’re trying to come up with solutions that will help improve that.”
The Port has received a Notice & Order to Abate Unsafe or Unlawful Conditions by the city of Aberdeen, and both entities are working together to remedy the effects of the homeless population congregating near city-owned public access facilities and easements.
Priorities include the cleanup of graffiti that has plagued benches and structures located along the path. According to Barnum, the city and the Port are also considering the addition of area sensors around the utility building to inhibit future vandalism, and that modifications may be made to the building to deter the congregation of campers.
While several options for improving the safety and aesthetics of the area are still being considered, stakeholders hope to have work done in the area before the number of trailgoers increases.
“It would be nice if we were able to come up with some solutions before early summer, when the weather gets nice and more people are utilizing our parks and trails,” said Barnum. “Hopefully we can use this winter and wet springtime to come up with some solutions to improve the area.”
The Port will continue to repair the fencing that protects the utilities under the Aberdeen Landing Dock, and will carry on with repainting the utility vault and repairing electrical issues created by vandalism. According to Andersen’s presentation at the PGH Commission Meeting last week, other fencing options to block access to the grass areas around the building are also being considered. In the meantime, the Port will continue to request increased patrols of the area by the Aberdeen Police Department (APD).
“We’re trying to help them out to keep the area clear,” said APD Commander Dale Green. “It’s a high-visibility area so we encourage them to notify us of trespassers.”