Vandals trash island parks, toilet by toilet

July has been a bad month for Whidbey Island parks.

From Clinton to Oak Harbor, destructive vandalism, to restrooms in particular, has damaged four island parks.

On July 16 vandals trashed the restrooms at Freeland Park, and on July 17 Dan Porter Park in Clinton.

Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Island County Sheriff's Office said the vandalism was "fairly substantial."

According to Lee McFarland, superintendent of the Island County Parks Department, vandals broke two toilets -- one in the men's and one in the women's -- at the recently completed Freeland Park restrooms. The bowls of the toilets were completely shattered.

"It looks like someone took a sledgehammer to them," McFarland said.

At Dan Porter Park, vandals smashed one toilet in the same manner as the Freeland vandalism. McFarland said the cost to replace each toilet is $400.

"In our budget, that's a pretty good hit," he said.

Both of the toilets in Freeland were replaced by July 18, but McFarland said the toilet in Dan Porter Park will have to wait for a part before it can be completed.

Smith said the sheriff's office is investigating the incidents and is conducting extensive patrols in the park areas.

In Oak Harbor, vandalism was worse than on South Whidbey. Vandals have caused more than $3,000 damage to City Beach and Flintstone parks in Oak Harbor's downtown waterfront since July 3.

Oak Harbor Parks Director Hank Nydam said the vandals destroyed seven toilets in restrooms, shattered plexiglass shelter windows, tampered with coin boxes, broke drains in sinks, gouged holes in picnic tables, snapped sprinkler heads, tipped over portable toilets and broke into the windmill.

Nydam added that campers in City Beach RV park saw vandals recently burning a wheelchair in a fireplace.

"We always deal with vandalism," he said, "but since July 3, it's been exceptionally bad."

As a result, Oak Harbor has started locking buildings, including restrooms, at City Beach at night for the first time. Nydam admits this might be a hardship for campers, but he said there's little choice.

Oak Harbor Police Capt. Rick Wallace said they have increased patrols in the area.

The park department replaced some of the broken toilets with port-a-potties, but then vandals pushed them over and stuck a hose in one to fill it with water.

Nydam said he's looking into the possibility of replacing the ceramic toilet bowls with stainless steel ones, which are "practically indestructible." But his proposal to install 10 stainless steel pots would cost more than $10,000. Whether or not the incidents in Oak Harbor and on South Whidbey are related to one another remains unclear.

Coordinating his information with Nydam's this week, McFarland said he discovered that the South Whidbey vandalism started as soon as Oak Harbor started to lock its public restrooms.

"It seems suspicious," said McFarland.

Vandalism to the new playground equipment at Dan Porter Park also has McFarland concerned. Vandals -- sometime over the Fourth of July weekend -- did some carving with a knife on the slide.

"It's pretty aggravating," said McFarland.

The playground equipment had been installed the week before.

At present, the county parks department has no plans to start locking its public restrooms.

Smith urged anyone with information on the recent vandalism, or who has seen suspicious criminal activity or malicious mischief, to please contact the Island County Sheriff Department at 321-4400 or call 911.

Jessie Stensland contributed to this article.

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