Recreation area parking lots invite bad guys
By Paul Bruun, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: September 12, 2012
Launch ramps, trailheads and other remote parking areas are hangouts for car thieves. To make the situation worse, add weekend surges of summer crowds, resource exploitation, macho behavior and poor construction management. This summer has had a few doozies.
The most unusual situation in memory came at least 25 years ago during a late- September fishing trip with Gene Renner in Grand Teton National Park. The only other vehicle in the Deadmans Bar lot, upon our arrival, was a battered, mustard-toned Volkswagen Beetle, the kind that populated ’60s-era college campuses. Telltale extra air vents on the rear cowling indicated that a more powerful Porsche-type engine had been installed. The rear portion of this seasoned VW also was riding unusually high, perhaps from a stiffened off-road suspension kit.
When Gene and I returned moments before dark to retrieve our rig at Deadmans, the VW and my outfit were surrounded by a handful of park rangers, sheriff’s deputies and a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer, all questioning our presence.
The Volkswagen’s tall profile was because its engine and transmission had been stolen. Quick enforcement action resulted a few days later in the arrest of the engine thieves, who practiced mechanical legerdemain in remote parking lots.
Not until modern times did northwest Wyoming forest and river access areas harbor vehicles worth stealing or burglarizing. The rolling stock most of us drove was thoroughly laughable. Just ask shuttle drivers who survived having steering wheels come off in their hands, needing nifty mechanical tricks to both start and then try to stop every other truck. Most rigs were so out of balance and alignment that operators aimed rather than steered. Windows were missing, doors refused to open and trying to lock them was pointless.
Yet late in the year even these dilapidated rides became opportunities for vandalism and theft. My losses over the years were limited to a Handyman jack and some tools, a few of which I got back after police nabbed one group. But lots of guys lost valuable tackle, guns and equipment.
Several years ago on the lower South Fork of the Snake, vehicles were besieged by an efficient ring of Rexburg college-age thieves. E-Bay, garage sales and flea markets are speedy outlets for outdoor gear snatched from parking lots where criminals know owners will be gone for a while.
For some time both the private and commercial portions of Bridger-Teton’s palatial West Table Creek parking facility mirrored the old Saturday morning Western range wars. Tempers flared when inexperienced or confused rafters and kayakers blocked access at the six- vehicle-wide paved ramps. Across the partition, rafting companies staked out their staging turf, which often left no room to park for commercial float fishing.
As is often the case, improved signage, meetings between aggrieved parties and a few cooler heads temporarily smoothed the waters. Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies remain on Forest Service facility managers’ speed dials until snow halts Snake River canyon access.
However, a recent report from several concession permittees who encountered a man stealing items from a friend’s vehicle at Lunch Counter rapid adds a new twist to this story.
Upon spotting a stranger taking a sleeping bag and pad from a truck, they asked him to stop, which he did. They requested that he replace anything else that he’d taken. He returned with a stolen backpack and a shotgun. He told them he was down on his luck, ordered them to hike down a trail and not watch him leave or copy his license plate number.
Because a shotgun trumps heroics, the witnesses wisely complied. Afterwards they called Lincoln County authorities and reported this unnerving event.
Despite most savvy river veterans’ suggestions to leave nothing of value visible in a vehicle, clients often want cell- phones, purses, bags and wallets to remain in a more secure dry zone than a watercraft storage compartment. A recent outfitter truck break-in at the Elbow launch facility was reported, proving it’s always better to take valuables along.
Of particular interest is Grand Teton National Park’s unfortunate handling of the endless maintenance-to-office building remodel adjacent to the Moose boat trailer parking lot. Ignored construction detritus and park employee and construction vehicles combine to make parking for commercial raft and fishing guides at times challenging, often thoroughly impossible.
This strangulation of commercial parking has led to some inappropriate fishing guide-versus-rafting vehicle vandalism, which is totally inappropriate while in sight of such a magnificent natural resource. Tempers flared over trailers parked crookedly or in the “wrong” places have led to diminished air pressure in vehicle tires and other pranks. The nearby video security camera (often not operating) hasn’t been of much help. Creating additional trailer parking would trivialize this problem fast.
It is unclear where and how private boaters and their equipment can fit into the Moose river scene unless they park a half mile away at Dornan’s!
Coupled with the diminished parking for launching and retrieval at Moose, the task of floating into or out of that area is as much fun as a hip replacement. Fishing between Deadmans Bar and Moose has long been a favorite experience. The park has successfully snuffed my interest, at least the near future.
And then: How about a One Fly float for … one?
A favorite young river man was so excited before the beginning of the Jackson Hole One Fly on Saturday morning that he overlooked something. Upon discovering that one of his assigned contestants lacked a Wyoming fishing license, he hurried the man to his fly shop to procure the document. With license in hand, instead of returning to the Gun Barrel to pick up his other angler, he raced directly to the river. Hasty arrangements were made to transport the forgotten angler to the proper put-in, where he was greeted by a grinning but red face.
All about Nixle
The public fire meeting held Monday evening by the Teton Interagency Fire Team in the Davey Jackson Elementary School was a masterpiece in design, organization and delivery. I left the auditorium feeling that the Little Horsethief fire that threatens east Jackson, spurred by some dry and windy weather, is in excellent hands.
On Monday afternoon, wife Jean and I joined the Nixle (nixle.com) network as recommended by Rich Ochs, Teton County Emergency Management coordinator.
“Until two days ago,” Ochs announced, “Nixle had 1,900 subscribers in this area. This afternoon that number stands at 4,500!”
Since everyone now owns a cell phone or has reasonable accss to one, joining this free emergency notification network is a wise idea. Our contact is via Jean’s device — my phone is in an Alpine storage shed, safely locked in our jetboat seat compartment where I forgot it again last Thursday.
Paul Bruun writes weekly on his adventures and his misadventures in the great outdoors.