State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Bryan Davidson and Morgan Cooney are shown during a sweep of the 133-acre Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles on Jan. 29. Clallam County chain gang crews helped Fish and Wildlife officers clean up 4,920 pounds of trash from the illegal homeless encampment Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Bryan Davidson and Morgan Cooney are shown during a sweep of the 133-acre Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles on Jan. 29. Clallam County chain gang crews helped Fish and Wildlife officers clean up 4,920 pounds of trash from the illegal homeless encampment Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Officers, chain gang remove trash from Morse Creek homeless camp

Area was closed in December

PORT ANGELES — State fish and game officers and two Clallam County chain gang crews have removed 4,920 pounds of trash from a homeless encampment along Morse Creek.

The 133-acre Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles was littered with hypodermic needles, stolen bicycle parts, fishing gear and other refuse, State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said.

No campers were observed on the closed site during a Jan. 29 sweep and Jan. 30-31 cleanups, said Sgt. Kit Rosenberger of the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Officers said they noticed a “vast increase” in the amount of wildlife in the area, Rosenberger said.

“There was a lot more deer roaming though the area,” Rosenberger said Thursday.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Bryan Davidson and Morgan Cooney are shown during a sweep of the 133-acre Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles on Jan. 29. Clallam County chain gang crews helped Fish and Wildlife officers clean up 4,920 pounds of trash from the illegal homeless encampment Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Bryan Davidson and Morgan Cooney are shown during a sweep of the 133-acre Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles on Jan. 29. Clallam County chain gang crews helped Fish and Wildlife officers clean up 4,920 pounds of trash from the illegal homeless encampment Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The Morse Creek Unit is part of the North Olympic Wildlife Area, which is used by hikers and wildlife watchers. Fish and Wildlife acquired the site in 2002 to protect habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

The agency closed the unit in December to address “chronic public safety issues” and the large number of people illegally residing there.

During the recent sweep, officers observed several vacant camps and one large structure that had been built illegally since the closure in December, state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police said Wednesday.

“The abandoned camps contained a large amount of trash, including hypodermic needles, and even fishing equipment,” agency officials said.

Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office chief criminal deputy, said two male chain gang teams removed an estimated 3,700 pounds of solid waste Jan. 30.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Morgan Cooney and Bryan Davidson survey trash left behind at an illegal homeless encampment. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Morgan Cooney and Bryan Davidson survey trash left behind at an illegal homeless encampment. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

One team cleaned up about 1,200 pounds of trash Jan. 31, King said.

The inmates spent a total of 73 man-hours working on the site.

“They cleaned up about eight different sites within the Morse Creek property there,” King said Thursday.

Rosenberger said the chain gang crews were “very effective at getting it done.”

He added that the site contained a “little bit of everything,” including tents, needles and bike parts.

“It was more localized this time, and up the hill away from the creek,” Rosenberger said in a Thursday interview.

The unlawful structure was a dwelling built from garage door panels.

“They had made four walls and a roof out of it,” Rosenberger said.

“Inside they rolled out a carpet. It had a folding chair in the corner, and there was a hypodermic needle on the floor right next to it.”

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Morgan Cooney and Bryan Davidson stand by a makeshift shelter at Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers Morgan Cooney and Bryan Davidson stand by a makeshift shelter at Morse Creek Unit east of Port Angeles. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Rosenberger said the agency hopes to reopen the Morse Creek unit to the public in May. He added that homeless encampments tend to become more common in the summer.

“Historically, it’s more of a problem when the weather warms up,” Rosenberger said.

“No one wants to live outside, but it’s hard to live outside this time of year because of the weather.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected]

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