Weaving through the steep slopes of Sumas Mountain in Deming are deep cuts into the mud, leaving scars across the landscape.
Burned plastic and discarded clothing blemish roadsides. Beyond the litter, dense forests let in little light except in the tunnels cut into the brush.
Sumas Mountain was once a place where people could drive recreational vehicles up a scenic road. Now, an infestation of illegal dumping, shooting and trail building has resulted in the closing of a historic recreation area to motor vehicles. The gate will remain closed until Sept. 1.
The 14,000 acres is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and is used primarily for timber harvesting. Timber sales support the work the DNR does as well as provide monies to universities and school systems.
As a secondary purpose, the land is used for dispersed recreation. Within posted guidelines, visitors are allowed to camp, hunt, hike and bike on the lands. For a time, they were also allowed to use motorized vehicles on designated roads built by the DNR.
In mid-July, the DNR was forced to close the area to motorized vehicles after an uptick in land destruction and illegal dumping.
Chris Hankey, Baker District manager for the DNR, was one of the officials who showed The Bellingham Herald several of the locations where illegal activities were occurring.
“We are just not equipped to deal with the abuse (of the land),” he said during a tour of the mountain.
Hankey said there has been an uptick in activity since the pandemic began as people looked for things to do. The noticeable uptick in activity has brought with it additional damage.
“We recognize it’s a relatively small percentage of the community (causing the damage),” Cory McDonald, proprietary forester of the Northwest region, said during the tour.
Illegal trails stemming from the main road cause geographic and environmental issues, Hakey said. One of the concerns for the area is that sediment from the illegal trails runs down to fish-bearing streams, along with pollution from the tires and other vehicle residues.
Before closing the gate and banning motorized vehicle access, the DNR had posted signs throughout the road system encouraging drivers to stay only on the designated roads. Additionally, blocks using downed trees and earth were used to cut off access to the illegal trails. When the blockades were destroyed, and individuals still found their way through, boulders and logs were used to block the trail.
In all, the DNR has spent $10,000 on cleanup and the blocking of trails. Money Hackey said could have been used for other endeavors through the DNR.
“We just need more to deal with the vandalism and garbage,” he said.
However, the illegal building and use of trails are far from the only issues in the park. Greg Erwin, DNR police officer, said bullets have landed on the roofs of houses butting up against the DNR property. Other issues have included the illegal dumping of animal carcasses on the property, including into flowing water.
Neighbors have discussed the possibility of a volunteer program to monitor and mitigate some of the damage. Officials said they are working with the groups to create the partnerships.
The gate will reopen Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. During that time, DNR officials said they will monitor for additional damage in the area. Until then, the lands remain open for recreation outside of motorized vehicles.
“We have to consider what we leave behind for future generations,” Hackey said.