Elkhorn Campground in the Elkhorn Wildlife Area, 11 miles west of North Powder, is becoming a magnet for suspicious characters and activity.
Dan Marvin of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and his wife, Michele, are learning this firsthand.
The Marvins live 100 yards north of Elkhorn Campground in a home next to the ODFW’s Elkhorn Wildlife Area headquarters. The couple told the Union County Board of Commissioners Wednesday that they continually see or hear gunfire, apparent illegal drug activity, homeless people camping, unauthorized ATV use, littering, drunk and disorderly conduct, loud parties, and much more.
“People try to steal our gas,” Michele Marvin said. “They are shooting firearms and screaming and yelling.”
Marvin said she worries about the safety of her young family and added that her family never leaves for the weekend, fearing that people from the campground will break into their home.
“It is a public party spot,” she said.
Dan Marvin, a wildlife areas program manager who helps manage Elkhorn Wildlife Area, shares these concerns.
“The safety of our family is at stake,” he said.
Oregon State Police Sgt. Chris Hawkins told the commissioners that his office has responded to 20 calls for service over the past year in the Elkhorn Campground area. Hawkins said that in some cases they have found the people there doing nothing illegal but with backgrounds that raised red flags. These included a sex offender, an armed career criminal and individuals who had warrants out for their arrests.
The ODFW is taking steps to address the problem, such as closing secluded parts of the campground where suspicious people go, thinning timber in the campground to increase visibility and installing more signs reminding people of campground rules.
Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen said he will be stepping up his office’s presence at the campground. He said he had not been aware of the problem until recently.
“We will be dealing with the issue,” he said.
Jeff Grende of North Powder told the commissioners he has lived in the area for many years and these problems at Elkhorn Campground are relatively new. He said the campground has been the site of many constructive projects including those of the Boy Scouts.
Grende stressed that he does not want to diminish the concerns the Marvins have.
“I want them to be safe,” he said.
Ed Trindle, who lives in North Powder and Baker City, said the problems would be best addressed with an increased police presence.
“It is a law enforcement issue,” he said.
Trindle said it would be wrong to shut down the campground because this would be punishing the many good people who use it.
“You don’t run out the good guys and turn it over to the bad guys,” Trindle said. “That is not the right way to get things done.”
The Union County Board of Commissioners does not have the authority to close the campground, only the ODFW does, said Commissioner Paul Anderes. He said Elkhorn Campground is not a Union County facility and it is under the jurisdiction of the ODFW.
Marvin and his wife spoke at the commissioners meeting to raise awareness of the problem at Elkhorn Campground and encourage law enforcement agencies to focus more on it.