POLLOCK State agencies have taken measures to end a transient camping site south of Pollock, but as a result, public use of the site is now daytime only.
And the action looks to have shifted the group to another public property just south of the Idaho-Adams county line.
Earlier this month, on Jan. 12, the Idaho Transportation Department placed signage prohibiting camping at the Rattlesnake Fishing Access Area, putting individuals on official notice that overnight usage is no longer allowed.
Since then, according to ITD public information specialist Megan Sausser, most of the vehicles and people have left the site. The agency is working with Idaho State Police (ISP) troopers who will tag vehicles at the location that, if they remain in the area for 48 hours, will be towed.
According to Sausser, the Rattlesnake Fishing Area, located off U.S. Highway 95 less than a mile south of Pollock, is a right-of-way ITD has held onto for any road expansion that may be required in the future.
“We’ve allowed the public to access the river from here,” she said, “to camp, fish and picnic,” and the location has been managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG).
ITD maintenance foreman Dave Fraser first started receiving complaints in late October or early November. The issue began with people moving vehicles and trailers into the location, setting up structures that —along with reports the population was growing — indicated this was becoming a transient community. Sausser said ITD was also receiving reports of drug use at the location, along with significant accumulations of garbage.
“We received a lot of complaints from citizens,” said Capt. Lonnie Richardson, ISP office in Lewiston, on allegations of drug use and drug sales by individuals at the site, but he clarified, “No arrests have been made for such.”
Once the situation was apparent, ITD sent letters to ISP, IDFG and the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office concerning the matter, Sausser said, and their agencies “were authorized on ITD’s behalf to take steps to minimize the negative aspects of the community set up there.”
Signage for the site had to be specially created, as this type of usage is not typical for ITD, explained Sausser.
Though the transient community problem appears to be resolved, the garbage left behind will be another issue for the agency to tackle sometime this year.
Initially, ITD was estimating the site cleanup to involve four to five truckloads – at an approximate five cubic yards per load – and several thousands of dollars in agency expense. Fish and Game, Sausser said, had offered to assist in cleanup.
However, an update provided by Sausser as of Tuesday, Jan. 23, was much of the debris has been collected – likely by campers – significantly reducing the amount of waste left behind, as well as the cost estimate for cleanup.
“We’re still waiting on a stretch of good weather to clean up the site,” she said, “but in the meantime, we are content to see if anything else gets hauled off. It appears the items left behind have been covered up, possibly indicating the campers’ intent to return.”
When this cleanup will be conducted is undetermined, again, pending on a stretch of good weather, where equipment is not being used elsewhere, and when crews will not be conducting plowing or road treatment. For ITD employees, their deployment to clean up the site will have to be balanced to avoid overworking crews and – for budgetary concerns — running into overtime hours that the agency needs to keep in reserve for snowplowing.
From this point forward, recreational activity at Rattlesnake Fishing Access Area is day-use only, Sausser said, “no overnight camping anymore.”
The situation is similar to one experienced last year in Nez Perce County, according to Capt. Richardson, where a group took over a site and trashed it. This group has done this for several years in the county, going from site to site, and in at least one instance on private property.
Estimates on the population numbers at the Rattlesnake site at its height at the location were unavailable, but it is known where some left from here.
“Some dispersed across the Idaho-Adams county line into another ITD-owned property,” Capt. Richardson said, and ISP is in the process of working with the ITD Boise office in addressing this, and will become involved, if requested.
On using such sites for camping, “ITD is pretty lenient about this kind of stuff,” he said, “until it becomes abused and people start making it an encampment and stacking up debris. They were not far from a county dump site, but they weren’t using that,” rather, leaving garbage to accumulate at the site.
“We’re not trying to pick on anybody,” Richardson explained. Had the group been good stewards of their environment and just camping at the site, they likely would have been left alone. “But ITD and state police were getting plenty of complaints from citizens,” he said, “so we had to step in and act.”