Sequim residents have hearings set for tickets from Olympic National Park shutdown

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

TACOMA –– Sequim hiker Leanne Potts will argue for the dismissal of a $125 trespassing ticket she received for visiting Olympic National Park while it was closed by October’s federal government shutdown after pleading not guilty in federal court Wednesday.

In the same Tacoma courtroom, another Sequim resident, Benjamin Schrenzel, also pleaded not guilty to a pair of tickets he received while mushroom picking at Sol Duc during the closure.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Strombom set Potts’ challenge for March 5.

Schrenzel’s is set for Feb. 10.

“I know I’m going to lose, but I just had to make a statement. I feel like as a citizen, I ought to stand up when I feel the government goes awry,” Schrenzel said.

“A citizen shouldn’t be fined for walking in his park just because Congress can’t get its act together.”

National parks and monuments were closed along with other government agencies from Oct. 1-17 after Congress failed to agree on a deal to continue funding the government.

Potts, who was not available for comment Wednesday, was one of three drivers ticketed in the Barnes Point parking lot when she drove past orange cones and closure signs to hike Mount Storm King with a friend.

Port Angeles teacher Kelly Sanders was also ticketed when she took a group of international students for a hike to Marymere Falls but decided to pay the fine rather than multiple trips to Tacoma and days off work.

The third ticket was written to a driver who has not been identified.

Schrenzel was given a ticket for $125 on Oct. 9 for allegedly violating the closure when he took a client of his business, DyNexus Recruiting & Staffing, mushroom picking at Sol Duc.

Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s Seattle office, said rangers and park staff may be called to testify if they are on the witness lists provided by Potts and Schrenzel.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict and Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher both urged federal officials to drop the citations, saying the ranger used poor discretion in writing the tickets.

Jenny Durkan, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, denied their requests. She said those ticketed drove past signs and cones that declared the park closed.

An experienced outdoorsman and Army veteran, Schrenzel said he set out mushroom picking that day knowing his competition for chanterelles would be lighter because of the shutdown.

“I knew that the government shutdown was taking place, but I also knew that this was an incredibly bountiful year for mushrooms,” Schrenzel said.

He and his client parked their truck at the gate, where they saw the closed sign, and began riding their bicycles 2 miles up the road to where Schrenzel knew a prime chanterelle spot.

“It didn’t say ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘No Trespassing.’ I assumed it was closed just to keep vehicles out,” he said. “I never thought about going on the website and checking out everything the law said before going up.”

They were met by a ranger, who wrote them each citations for violating the closure. Both also received tickets for picking more than their share of mushrooms, which were then confiscated, Schrenzel said.

Schrenzel said his client paid the tickets.

A man named Jose Castro also contested a ticket Wednesday for allegedly violating the closure of Mount Rainier and has a hearing set for March 5.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 08. 2014 7:42PM
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