PORT ANGELES — State Fish and Wildlife officers have closed the 133-acre Morse Creek Unit off the U.S. Highway 101 Morse Creek curve so they can clean it up again.
The unit 3 miles east of Port Angeles will be closed through May “to address chronic public safety issues,” said a press release issued Friday.
“We need to close the Morse Creek Unit to assist law enforcement efforts and remove illegal campsites that are impacting legitimate public use of the site,” said Brian Calkins, Coastal (Region 6) wildlife program manager for Fish and Wildlife, in the release.
“We may consider a longer closure of the site,” he added, “but we would first go through a formal public review process before making that change.”
The Morse Creek Unit is part of the North Olympic Wildlife Area, which spans areas in Clallam and Jefferson counties, which are used by hikers and wildlife watchers. Fish and Wildlife acquired the unit in 2002 to protect habitat for salmon and other wildlife.
In August, Fish and Wildlife officers cleaned up eight developed illegal residential campsites, as well as a common dumping area and an apparent barter tent, in the Morse Creek Unit.
People found there were told to leave.
Since the summer, illegal campers have moved into another area of the unit, said Sgt. Kit Rosenberger of Fish and Wildlife on Friday.
He and other officers investigated the area about 10 days ago and found four or five people camping illegally.
According to the release: “People camping at the site have damaged important wildlife habitat by cutting trees, digging holes, and clearing brush to build temporary structures.
Wildlife managers closed it entirely on Friday.
The closure is to allow the officers to “get a handle on unlawful resident camps,” Rosenberger said, adding that work on the area and signage are probably not going to occur until after the holidays.
“It is affecting other people’s ability to enjoy the area,” said Rachel Blomker, communications manager for the department on Friday.
“The regional team decided it was best to close the site temporarily to clean it up again.”
Amy Miller, a social worker with the RedisCovery program of Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic (formerly VIMO), accompanied the officers and told the handful of people found living outdoors there about resources available to them.
“We don’t have housing resources here,” Miller said. “We don’t have the option in any capacity to take people off the streets and into housing.
“What I do … is try to connect with folks who don’t know about the resources we do have and get them connected if they so choose.”
And most do, Miller said, speaking in more general terms.
“There’s a misconception that there is a great number of people who choose to be vagabonds. Those folks do exist but they aren’t here this time of year,” she said. “I met over 300 people last year. Maybe only 20 declined services and moved on.”
Reasons for homelessness are diverse, she said. They can include medical problems, divorce, a death in the family or rising rent.
“We’ve recently had an increase in evictions,” she said. “There are those who are newly homeless. There are a lot of elderly folks who have been priced out of their homes.”
She said that some lack an alternative to living outdoors.
“If they are feeling like living outside is their only option, they do try to do so legally,” Miller said. “If those avenues are shut down, they go further into isolation.
“It’s harder to help when we push them farther and farther into the woods.
For people living outdoors, “it’s just survival,” Miller said. “You can’t get ahead. You’re just surviving.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].