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Litter jeopardizes river beach

August 13, 2005

He heard it from his open kitchen door. The sound of glass and rock. Shattering and bouncing. The sound of laughter and mischief.

Four distinct times, he heard it. And he followed the sound of it to a bush by the river, where he ducked and watched.

Watched so he could confirm it. So he could tell others about it. So that when he decided to close his property to strangers after 34 years of welcoming them, they might understand.

He watched it because his ears couldn’t fathom what they had heard: A young man, maybe 21, hucking empty bottles of Miller Genuine Draft to the other side of the river. Into Hood River Sports Club property. Chuckling as each one shattered on the rocks and splintered into the sand. Into the river.

A little kid could slice her foot open on it. Bleed into the water. Cry into the sun.

This has to stop.

For 34 years, the O’Dell family has lived in the 2,334-square-foot Victorian house on 5.88 acres just south of Tucker Bridge on Dee Highway.

Since they moved in, they have allowed people through their property to access the Hood River upstream of the Tucker Bridge.

In the springtime, at 1,400 cubic feet per second (cfs), snowmelt rushes over a rock and forms a play hole, where kayakers can spend hours practicing freestyle moves.

In the summertime, at 300 cfs, a pool forms above and below that hole. Kids, anxious to escape the summer heat, can swim there or, if they dare, through the rapid in between.

“I don’t have a problem at all with kids recreating,” said Randy O’Dell. “I did it when I was young.”

From early on, however, the O’Dells had resigned themselves to weekly garbage detail, patrolling the river’s shores and the land surrounding it for disregarded bottles, paper cups and potato chip bags.

And then on Aug. 3, after Randy O’Dell had confronted the young man who was throwing bottles from the O’Dell side of the river to the Hood River Sports Club’s side, the family decided enough was enough.

They posted “No Trespassing” signs: 13 of them in all and decided from now on if anybody wants to use the property, they’d have to sign in at the house first.

“It’s a very pretty section of river,” Randy says while walking along the trail toward the river. “I don’t want to close it down so people can’t enjoy it. I just want people to respect it and the neighbor’s property.”

So far, handfuls of kids are still enjoying it — knocking on the O’Dells’ door, signing the sheet and respecting the property. One group of teenagers brings a trash bag with them. Each afternoon they fill it with trash and carry it out when they leave.

But the litter problem is not just at Tucker Bridge.

It’s in Post Canyon.

At Kingsley Reservoir.

Punchbowl Falls.

It’s pretty much everywhere the public goes.

Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District staffers devote spare hours and minutes each day to picking up litter in the parks.

“I’ll go 30 minutes into the darkness with a flashlight after the Walk-In movies picking up trash,” said Scott Baker, coordinator for the parks and recreation district.

The city’s public works department estimates litter costs taxpayers at least four to six hours of its staff time per week.

And the sheriff’s office devotes two work crews a few days a year to cleaning up Post Canyon litter.

It’s a reckless habit, rewarded by harsh consequences – $500-fine and six months in jail. If you drop your beer bottle within 100 yards of a river, the penalty is even harsher: $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

In the last three years, however, the city’s municipal court has prosecuted just five cases of littering. The county hasn’t charged anybody for littering in the last six months. The sheriff’s office has received just four reports of the misdemeanor crime in that amount of time – two for doing it within 100 yards of a waterway.

“We give them (the litterers) a call and tell them to go get it,” Wampler said. “Mostly because a lot of the ones we get are when mom and dad gave the kids money to go to the dump and the garbage never made it to the dump. They just pocket it instead.”

Wampler said the sheriff’s office has called about six people for littering this year.

To demonstrate the problem as he has experienced it, Randy O’Dell walks down the path toward the river. Since Aug. 3, this has become a nightly task.

Along the way, he reaches his hand into a bush of Mock Orange and pulls out an empty bottle of Miller Genuine Draft.

“Clear glass bottles like that in the summer and in the sun…” He shakes his head then turns. “Pretty good fire hazard.”

A few yards down the trail, he dips to the ground again.

This time, he lifts a Burger King soda cap and straw from the path.

By the time he reaches the sandy beach on the Hood River no more than a hundred yards later, he’s holding a Coors bottle cap, a Keystone beer can, the soda cap and straw, and the Miller Genuine Draft bottle. And now he’s holding something else in his hand: a jagged shard of glass from, judging by the scripted M, another Miller Genuine Draft bottle.

“I’d feel really bad if some 4-year-old or 6-year-old sliced their foot open on something like this,” he says.

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