Wednesday, September 4, 2002
If Klickitat County is serious about luring tourists to the area, it ought to consider the impact of some of the "negative press" the county has gotten recently regarding its actions related to the "Rails-To-Trails" corridor between Lyle and Centerville.
After all, tourists bring in a large infusion of cash to the area, and many small businesses would have a hard time surviving without the dollars tourists bring. So it's disheartening to see the county's heavy-handed handling of a recent trespassing case.
When the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office chose to charge a 19-year-old bicyclist with "criminal trespass" recently, it managed to stir up controversy that has spread an image of hostility to some of the biggest cities in the Northwest.
The alleged criminal trespasser is Sean Stroup, 19. He's a University of Oregon student whose family is from Seattle. He was riding his bike on the former railroad right of way near Klickitat. He said he was there to take photos for a school project.
Stroup's experience in Klickitat County wound up being spotlighted in an article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Aug. 26, and again in a follow-up story on Aug. 28.
How's this for some bad press: "When the 19-year-old Stroup went mountain biking in May on a former railway posted as owned by the state, he didn't expect to be stopped and eventually charged by Klickitat County authorities with criminal trespass ..."
According to the article, Stroup was yelled at by a property owner along the corridor, then, when he apparently disregarded the yelling, he was physically confronted by another property owner. The property owners called the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, who told Stroup he was on private property.
Two months later, the county filed formal criminal trespassing charges against him.
Regardless of what anyone believes about the wisdom of creating a trail on the former railbed that went from Lyle to Goldendale, the apparently excessive charges in this incident reflect poorly on our county.
Again, quoting from the article: "Assistant Attorney General Barbara Herman wrote to (Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney) Tim O'Neill in a July 24 letter contained within court files: `I am not sure how I could have been clearer in communicating that the state parks own the trails and permit public use of that trail. Had you read the materials I sent, you would know that your predecessor Mr. [Knute] Rife already advised the Sheriff's Office that trail use was permitted and that the sheriff had no authority to cite users of the trail.'"
Charles Montagne, a Rails-To-Trails attorney also quoted, blasted Klickitat County in the article. Again, from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"This is just garbage," Montagne said. "They are the only county in the whole state that has done this. O'Neill and other public officials in the county think that the gun is the law. They run the county like it is a plantation."
But the story didn't end there. The Rails To Trails Conservancy filed a court motion to have the charges against Stroup dismissed "with prejudice" -- meaning that the county could not reinstate charges against Stroup at a later date. But the Prosecutor's Office objected, asking the court to maintain its right to prosecute Stroup later on.
The court subsequently ruled that the Prosecutor's Office retains the right to go after Stroup in the future.
That's quite the Pyrrhic victory for our county.