The scenic views of Quartermaster Harbor, Mount Rainier and beyond offered by Inspiration Point are something to behold for those who venture off Vashon Highway to get a glimpse for themselves.
But Jason Acosta, maintenance director for the Vashon Park District, can only think about what might be left there for his crews to have to haul away — the popular overlook is a growing hot spot for illegal dumping.
“Used to be mainly trash [that] people would dump over the side of the embankment,” he said. “We’re not seeing that a lot within the last six months, but what we are seeing a lot of is, we’ll show up, and there will be a bunch of stuff sitting right there, and it says ‘free.’”
Sofas, love seats, end tables, miscellaneous refuse stuffed into boxes and bags, and other odds and ends, all have a habit of appearing at Inspiration Point. It’s such a regular occurrence that at a recent board meeting, Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford expressed hope that purchasing security cameras to curb vandalism at other district properties would discourage the practice at Inspiration Point from continuing.
In an interview, Ott-Rocheford said illegal dumping, starting as a class 3 civil infraction in Washington, is not just an island problem. Staff at Kitsap County Parks told her it has taken off in their properties as well.
“They said it’s just becoming rampant,” she said. “[Theirs is] a much larger park system, of course, and they have a lot more remote areas.”
But the Vashon Park District has had to pay more attention to waste in recent years than ever before. Acosta said he could remember a time when his crews picked up trash at district properties twice a week. Now, he said they check the trash almost daily. Moreover, disposal costs for the park district rose 111% from 2014 to 2018.
Much of what district maintenance crews discover, Acosta noted, could be donated to Granny’s Attic. But if it isn’t in good enough condition, they head to the Vashon Transfer Station to offload junk there, eating up valuable work hours.
Acosta said that activity picks up during the summer — that’s when maintenance staff find discarded rubbish in district properties most often. Trash cans at Vashon Elementary School Fields and Ober Park are often crammed to the brim with personal trash, with more bags dotted around them. Some of this comes with the job, said Acosta. But times are changing.
“In the last four years, five years, it just seems to be getting worse and worse and worse,” he said, adding that he and the maintenance staff are proud of the island’s parks and want to keep them clean. But he said it’s not getting any easier. Earlier this month, in one puzzling instance, Acosta said someone set fire to a garbage can that was propped against a telephone pole at Burton Adventure Recreation Center. Vashon Island Fire & Rescue put out the small blaze that destroyed the bin, an act Ott-Rocheford said was vandalism.
“It’s just interesting, the increase in vandalism, the increase in illegal dumping. It’s become an epidemic. It’s really sad,” she said.
The King County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, can only offer so much help. Names and addresses left on mail inside discarded bags of personal trash are not useful to deputies who need a positive ID of an individual suspected of disposing of their waste that way.
Unless the perpetrator is caught on video or seen by a witness, little can be done, according to spokesman Sgt. Ryan Abbott.
The Solid Waste Division operates an illegal dumping hotline to report the improper disposal of waste in King County. Those reports are then sorted out by what jurisdiction should receive the complaint based on the type and location where it occurred. Solid waste responds to areas where jurisdiction may be unclear or in other open spaces unaffiliated with county agencies such as Metro Transit or King County Parks.
Morgan John, a project manager at the solid waste division, said the hotline has helped the county handle reports of illegal dumping more efficiently, but he suspects that islanders may not be using it often and that Vashon residents, the King County Road Services Division and the park district handle most of the waste improperly disposed of on the island.
According to Broch Bender, spokesperson for the Department of Local Services, Road Services responded to fourteen service requests for spills (oil or hydraulic fluid after an accident), trash and illegal dumping on Vashon and Maury Island Road Services right of way last year. The total cost to dispose of the items and clean up was $2,385.
Report illegal dumping online or by calling the King County Illegal Dumping Hotline at 206-296-7483.