Vandals have property owners in a rut

Stan and Lynn Swanson have had many parties on their property over the last several years, but never once have they been invited to one.

The Swansons live on almost 200 acres of designated forest land near Glendale Road, and share the property with Stan’s mother, Marjory Handy, who lives in a house across a stream from them. The Swansons, Handy and their neighbors are tired of the teenagers who they say are taking advantage of their isolated property to ride their off-road vehicles and drink alcohol.

“It’s definitely high school kids because we’ve caught them down here before,” Swanson said.

Neighbor Darleen Hellman has also seen vandals in two separate instances on her property, and called the Island County Sheriff’s Office after they did wheelies and tore up her new drainfield.

The vandals have left behind beer bottles, dumped garbage and leave behind evidence of late-night bonfires, according to Swanson. In the latest incident, last weekend, the vandals used their off-road vehicles to tear up meadow lands in and around the family’s property, and destroyed an elaborate mailbox. A nearby meadow had been replanted recently and fenced off, while older evidence of wheelies and off-road vehicles were still fresh from a recent weekend.

Handy, who said her family strives to be environmentally conscious, does not like to think of the damage the vandals are doing to the natural habitat.

“They don’t know that with one spark the woods would go,” she said about the bonfires.

On Thursday, Swanson examined some of the recent damage to their property near his driveway on Roseberry Street. Huge muddy ruts and puddles are now where Swanson said used to be a grassy area. Shoved deep into the mud were shingles that had covered a nearby mailbox structure for a handful of neighboring residents. The vandals used the shingles for traction to get their four-wheelers unstuck from the mud.

Handy also worries about her liability with teenagers drinking on her property.

“What’s my responsibility when they come out of the woods drunk?” she asked.

Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Felici, who was looking into the crimes this week, said late-night teenage parties in the woods is not a new phenomenon to the island.

“We get those kind of calls on a regular basis,” he said.

With recent sunny weather, South Whidbey’s isolated properties are destinations for locals who use them to drive their off-road vehicles and hold clandestine parties. Acting on tips from the neighbors, Felici said the sheriff’s office will increase patrols of the known primitive areas where the parties take place.

Linda Beeman, who lives near the Swansons and Handy, said she has only lived in her home for two years, but has had trouble with the vehicles driving over her property.

“For me, it’s a new phenomenon,” Beeman said.

Another neighbor, Dick Curdy, said he hopes parents will be more accountable for their teens who come home covered in mud from using their off-road vehicles, or drunk.

“I have had an objection to this type of thing for a long time,” Curdy said about the off-road vehicles.

Curdy said his property has not been directly affected by the vandals, but he is disappointed at the damage done along the shared dirt road and on his neighbor’s property.

“My main concern is that we nip it in the bud,” Curdy said. “Hopefully we can tone it down a little bit.”

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