Combatting Vandalism at Project Parks

Vandalism had been a problem at two parks that are part of Avista Utilities ’ two-powerhouse Clark Fork Project on the Clark Fork River in Idaho and Montana. To combat this problem at its Pilgrim Creek and Finley Flats parks, Avista organized community volunteer programs, including a camp host program at both parks and a workday program at Pilgrim Creek Park.

By Michele M. Drake and Brian K. Burky

The area around Avista Utilities ’ 265-MW Cabinet Gorge and 466-MW Noxon Rapids hydro facilities – which make up the Clark Fork Project on the Clark Fork River in Idaho and Montana – provides a beautiful setting for recreation. Unfortunately, in the past, the sites associated with the two projects have been plagued by vandalism and misuse. One park experienced a serious problem with squatters, with related litter and sanitation issues. An incident at another park resulted in a portable restroom left floating in the reservoir.

But thanks to the efforts of Avista Utilities employees and local volunteers, problems like these have become a thing of the past at the Pilgrim Creek and Finley Flats parks. This partnership has led to the preservation and enhancement of the recreation opportunities that abound along the reservoirs of these two hydro facilities.

Organizing the camp host program

Avista received a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license for the Clark Fork Project in 2001. Implementation of the supporting settlement agreement includes provisions for ongoing operation and maintenance, as well as enhancement of recreation areas.

Both Pilgrim Creek and Finley Flats parks needed a program that would reduce vandalism while providing cost-effective management of the site. Beginning with Pilgrim Creek Park in 1998 and expanding to Finley Flats in 2004, Avista implemented a camp host program that is based on programs used by state and federal agencies in other areas. Camp hosts live at the site during the summer months. They help Avista identify potential issues and needs by interacting directly with visitors. The hosts can provide input that helps Avista make meaningful improvements at the facilities, and the hosts ’ role as ambassadors is invaluable.

The total cost to Avista for the host program at both parks is about $5,000 annually.

Pilgrim Creek Park

Pilgrim Creek Park is a day use recreational area of more than 40 acres along the reservoir of the Cabinet Gorge project. The park, located on the eastern edge of Noxon, Mt., contains two baseball/softball fields, universally accessible fishing access, a picnic shelter, playground equipment, more than a mile of universally-accessible trails, a Frisbee golf course, and restrooms. Visitors, local citizens, youth baseball players, and the Noxon High School girls ’ softball team use the park. Unfortunately, the site also attracted vandals, who burned picnic tables, destroyed fences, and damaged the ball fields and restrooms.

Avista ’s recreation/land use specialist regularly visits all of the utility ’s recreation sites throughout the year, but the use of camp hosts provides a more consistent presence at the park. At Pilgrim Creek Park, camp hosts spend one entire recreation season (April through September) at the site, greeting visitors, sharing information about rules and regulations, and performing general upkeep such as litter control, restroom cleaning, event scheduling, mowing, and watering.

All new hosts complete a one-day training program that centers around safety. Hosts learn how to safely approach visitors and education them, identify the warning signs of dangerous situations, and contact emergency personnel. Other training includes equipment and workplace safety, supply procurement, and scheduling instruction. Hosts can call on the support of a maintenance worker and law enforcement personnel if needed.

In exchange for the hosts ’ time and work, Avista offers a small stipend and a complete recreational vehicle (RV) site, including water, electricity, sewer hook-ups, firewood, and Internet access. The camp host position is a particularly good fit for retired individuals who make their RV a summer home. Accordingly, Avista selects the hosts from a pool of applicants who respond to an advertisement placed in a national publication for retired RV users. Avista screens promising applicants using telephone interviews because most of them do not live in the area.

Finley Flats Park

Finley Flats Park is an unmarked, primitive overnight campground and day use area along the reservoir of the Noxon Rapids project. The camp host program at Finley Flats is slightly different because it relies on a series of volunteerhosts throughout the season. Hosts typically stay at Finley Flats Park for three or four days at a time. Longer stays are difficultbecause there are no utilities on site.

In recent years, recreation interest at this beautiful and somewhat remote site has increased, bringing with it a variety of problems. In 2000, local law enforcement officials located a drug lab on property immediately adjacent to Finley Flats Park and arrested those involved.


Children help paint a fence at Pilgrim Creek Park as part of the annual spring workday. The workday program at this park, which sits along the reservoir of Avista Utilities ’ 265-MW Cabinet Gorge project, has reduced vandalism and provided many upgrades.
Click here to enlarge image

Unlike at Pilgrim Creek Park, Finley Flats camp hosts are all local citizen volunteers, who add an element of self-policing at the site. Avista selects the hosts annually from a pool of applicants who regularly use the site, coordinating their stays to ensure about 80 percent coverage throughout the recreation season. Avista also provides gas for the hosts ’ generators, firewood, and a cellular telephone. Finley Flats hosts also receive training and can contact maintenance personnel and law enforcement for support if necessary.

Setting up the workday

As far back as the mid-1980s, recreation user groups hosted informal workdays at Pilgrim Creek Park to spruce up the facility. With the addition of a recreation/land use specialist to Avista ’s Clark Fork Project License implementation staff in 1999, the workday effort became a formalized event during which citizens come together to “open ” the park each spring.

Finding volunteers

Gathering volunteers for the Pilgrim Creek workday involves a few telephone calls to key individuals and stakeholders who regularly use the park. This approach works well because of the close-knit small-town atmosphere in Noxon. Avista also seeks volunteers through an advertisement in the local newspaper, but the utility has found that personal requests are the most effective way to elicit participation.

In 2005, about 70 volunteers spent an early spring day raking leaves, picking up litter, cleaning restrooms, trimming vegetation, sprucing up paint, and fertilizing the ball fields. In total, the volunteers spent about 450 work hours beautifying the park. Special projects com- pleted in 2005 include construction of a handicapped accessible swing set, a “Montana size ” sand box, and “pirate ship ” playground equipment. In 2006, several early season special events organized by community members resulted in more than 600 volunteer hours contributed to the park over a six-week period. This work eliminated the need for a formal workday this year.

One way Avista combats vandalism is by involving local high school students in the workday event, as well as in special projects such as constructing picnic facilities and signage. This helps them develop a sense of ownership in the park. In 2006, funds were used to build new dugouts for the Noxon High School girls ’ softball team. In 2005, members of the softball team replaced seats and painted the park bleachers. In 2004, the Noxon High School woodshop class built a new park entrance sign and dugout benches.

Providing materials and funding

Preparing for the workday involves surveying the site to determine projects to be completed, then gathering the materials, tools, and workers needed to bring these projects to fruition. Effective preparation and planning helps create a rewarding and fun experience for all participants. Avista ’s recreation/land use specialist coordinates the efforts for the workdays, including soliciting grants and donations from local, regional, and national sources. One of the unexpected benefits of the volunteer aspect of the workday program at Pilgrim Creek Park is the willingness of organizations and individuals to provide donations. They see the established volunteer presence as a demonstration of the community ’s stake in the park.

Avista ’s costs for organizing the workday primarily involve staff time for publicity, organization, and supply procurement.

Lessons learned

Through eight years of managing the camp hosts program and seven years of coordinating the workday at Pilgrim Creek Park, Avista has learned several valuable lessons:

– When selecting a camp host, it is important to ensure the host is comfortable working in a very dynamic setting. There is no typical schedule, and the user groups are diverse. Successful hosts must be able to adjust their educational approach and style to accommodate the various park visitors.

– Involving young people in volunteer projects can nearly eliminate vandalism at project parks, as well as help maintain and improve the park in a cost-effective manner. During annual recreation presentations at Noxon High School, Avista emphasizes that money that must be used for maintenance or vandalism repair cannot be used for site improvements. Students quickly understand that a lack of vandalism allows Avista to use the funds to complete the students ’ suggested park improvements.

– Volunteers can serve as advocates. Volunteers go beyond park maintenance and improvement projects to serving as advocates for the parks and Avista. Volunteers can communicate news about park improvements through word of mouth and letters to the editors of local newspapers. The community pride is evident as citizens use the park for picnics, family reunions, and weddings.

Ms. Drake may be reached at Avista Utilities, P.O. Box 3727, Spokane, WA 99220-3727; (1) 509-495-8624; E-mail: michele.drake@avistacorp.com. Mr. Burky may be reached at Avista Utilities, P.O. Box 1469, Noxon, MT 59853; (1) 406-847-1283; E-mail: brian.burky@ avistacorp.com.

Michele Drake, hydro compliance coordinator with Avista Utilities, assists with communication efforts regarding the volunteer programs at Pilgrim Creek and Finley Flats parks. Brian Burky, recreation/land use specialist with Avista Utilities, coordinates the volunteer programs.

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