Hunters, hikers conflict

As Greenbank Farm works to become a destination for island residents and tourists, it is facing a problem that is becoming common on the island. While more and more hikers enjoy the trails in the woods above the farm fields, there is a fear that they may find themselves dodging bullets and arrows instead of enjoying the sylvan tranquility.

A portion of the Greenbank trail system traverses a wooded area owned by Island County, on which hunting is an allowed use. Hunting is not supposed to take place within 150 yards of a constructed trail, but in this wedge of property between Highway 20, Holmes Harbor Estate, and the farm fields, that leaves only small sections for hunters. The smallest is an island of 1200 feet by 300 feet in the center of the property. The largest is a 1200 by 1200 feet area in the southeast corner bordering the fields.

The Greenbank Farm Management Group has asked the county commissioners to eliminate hunting in this area, saying that hunting is inconsistent with providing a safe trail corridor as per the county code.

Greenbank resident Don Stewart was one of the first to raise concerns about the use conflict on the county property. He walks his dog there everyday.

“It’s a great place to walk,” he said. He is concerned that with the increased use comes increased danger.

“If the county is promoting the trails, it would be safer if there was no hunting,” he said.

The county gives out a trail map of the area, but some of the problem comes from the area in the southeast corner that is not marked as having trails, and is therefore open to hunters.

Stewart and others have pointed out to the county commissioners that in fact there are trails in the area, and people are using them.

The commissioners decided in a work session March 17 to have the trails mapped, which would then put them under the no hunting ordinance. While the commissioners are considering whether to ban hunting outright on the Greenbank property, mapping the trails may create such a large no hunting zone that there wouldn’t be any huntable area left. That’s an issue that is raising concern islandwide.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said he is a hunter, but that he long ago stopped hunting on the island because he felt it was “too crowded’; too populated to hunt safely.

“As the county has developed, it’s hard to find significant open space where people can hunt without impeding on people’s homes,” he said, but then again hunting is needed to thin the deer population on the island. “I can understand both sides of the issue.”

Shelton said the Greenbank property, hemmed in as it is by the highway, farm and residential area, doesn’t seem like a hunting compatible area, and he would support an outright ban in that area.

“Shots fired” calls increasing

Sheriff Mike Hawley said his office last year responded to 427 “shots fired” calls, which cost the county $10,000 in dispatch fees. And it’s a growing problem. In 1998 they responded to 192 such calls.

The Sheriff’s Department gets complaints during hunting season, but there is a year-round issue of people calling because their neighbors are target shooting, Hawley said.

Hawley said while most hunters are safety conscious, “some shooters have been stupid.”

They also get calls from homeowners upset when “Bambi gets wounded and ends up dying in their backyard,” Hawley said. When the dying deer is followed by men wearing camouflage and carrying guns, it doesn’t help the conflict.

Renee and Chris Atkins have lived on the edge of the county Greenbank property, on Currant Court, for 16 years, but the thought of stray bullets is not a concern, Renee Atkins said. During hunting season they tell their two children to wear orange if they go into the woods behind their house.

She said her husband used to deer hunt in those woods, but stopped when the area was posted as bow hunting only, two years ago. Hunting regulations for the island, however, do not designate any areas as bow hunting only.

“He got his best bucks in there,” she said, pointing to a row of antlers mounted on the wall.

She said she does hear shots occasionally, but suspects that may be the work of poachers.

Greenbank posts signs

Laura Blankenship, Greenbank Farm executive director, said the farm group has discussed the hunting issue with commissioners, and just want to do what’s best for the public.

“We support the community on this issue,” she said. She has been approached by many people who say they felt it was dangerous in the woods.

The farm has posted “hunting season” signs on the trails leading into the woods when appropriate. They could have posted signs in the woods reading “no hunting beyond this point,” but they would have to be posted deep in the woods, facing into the trail, Blankenship said. Hunters would have to leave the trail, go 150 yards and turn around to see the signs.

“They would be creating the illusion of safety, but they were confusing,” Blankenship said. “Hunters might not see the signs, and we didn’t want to put them in that position.”

Nowhere is the hunting/population conflict greater than on Camano Island, where an elementary school was recently built which backs up against 200 acres of state forest.

Commissioner Bill Byrd said parents have complained to him that it’s unnerving to drop their child off at school and look across the street to see a man in chamo carrying a gun.

Commissioners will hold public meetings on Camano and Whidbey islands to address the issue. The meeting on Camano will take place April 13, 6 p.m. in the Elger Bay Elementary School. The Whidbey Island meeting will be held April 20, 7 p.m. in the Coupeville Performing Arts Center.

“We need to strike a balance, and educate people on what to expect,” Hawley said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at or call 675-6611

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