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Crime problems hit demo forest

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A wave of vandalism and other crimes has struck the Washington State University Demonstration Forest recently and Bonney Lake Police Chief Mike Mitchell is warning teenagers and citizens to stay away from the area.

The buildings used by the WSU 4-H challenge course have been ransacked to the point that Mel Taylor, executive director of real estate from WSU, said the structures “will all be destroyed for safety reasons.”

There are two buildings in the nearly 150-acre forest and a covered gathering area. One of the buildings, an A-frame house, was being used as office space and the other, a modular building, was being used as a classroom prior to the forest being closed in 2006.

Vandals have spray painted graffiti inside and outside both structures, walls have been damaged, stairs and windows ripped out, computers torn apart and anything capable of being busted has been.

Another serious problem, according to Mitchell, is teenagers walking through the forest, which is trespassing, and teens gathering for parties.

“Parents are dropping kids off thinking they are going to the (Regal) cinemas,” Mitchell said. “Instead the kids are going over to the forest to parties. And with summer months ahead, we know the parties are going to increase.”

The teens have been gathering at a spot called the hexagon, which is close to Regal Cinemas and Albertsons.

When Mitchell was walking through the forest Thursday afternoon he found a teen sitting in the covered area by the modular classroom. After the chief identified himself, he told the boy he was trespassing. The chief let the teen know he could be cited. He instructed him to tell his friends to stay out of the forest. After receiving permission from the teen, Mitchell searched his pack and then sent him on his way.

“You want to try to make an incident like that a positive experience,” Mitchell said. “That way he may talk to his friends and help us out.”

Along with the teen parties, Mitchell said the police are also facing more serious crime problems in the forest like drug abuse, including methamphetamine labs, and people trying to get away from the law.

“Shoplifters and others have used it as an escape route,” Mitchell said. “More than one foot chase has gone into the forest. They know they can get in there and hide.

Mitchell said the homeless and people with warrants have been known to be living for periods of time in the forest.

The chief wants parents to talk to their teenage children about staying out of the forest.

Bonney Lake police officers were involved in a search June 2 for a juvenile girl who was believed to be lost in the forest. The girl had allegedly gone with a friend to watch a movie, but instead went to a party in the forest. The girl's parents called the police and, according to reports the officers received, the girl became intoxicated at the party and was possibly lost in the forest.

The chief organized a search of the area involving the city's police officers, East Pierce Fire and Rescue personnel and the King County Sheriff's Guardian One search helicopter.

The search lasted five hours, but the girl was never found. The teen returned home the next morning.

According to the chief, WSU has provided the police department with keys to the gates at the forest and officers will now be patrolling the area on bike and foot.

The university asked East Pierce Fire and Rescue if the fire agency was interested in using the buildings for fire training.

Assistant Chief John McDonald said the department might use them for forcible-entry training before they are demolished.

McDonald said the fire department is also warning people in the area to stay out of the forest because of fire dangers with the dry summer months ahead and, “Those vacant buildings are a hazard now and it is very easy for people to get hurt,” McDonald said.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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