Parks liable for damages due to unsafe park conditions

Editor,

Since December 2017, the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District has constructed unsafe trails in Trustland Trails Park. Numerous citizens have put SWPRD on notice that these new trails are hazardous.

In 2019, I filed a formal complaint with the Island County Planning Department. I noted that all the new trails were constructed without permits. I also specifically complained that the steep slope on the 2018 trail is dangerous. The Planning Department replied that the new trails needed no permits—that is, no regulation.

In August 2020, the 2018 trail proved to be a hazard. Peggy Kimbell of Clinton fell on the same steep grade I mentioned in my Planning Department complaint, and she was seriously injured. (See letter to the editor, South Whidbey Record, Oct., 30, 2020.)

SWPRD believes that they have no responsibility for injuries incurred on these unsafe trails. This is not so. SWPRD is liable for damages due to unsafe conditions in the park, especially after they have been put on notice about hazards.

Ask a lawyer.

In part, the danger is that SWPRD’s 2017-19 trail construction is unfinished. Throughout the park, there are eroding, slippery slopes and huge puddle formations due to lack of proper water drainage. SWPRD also promised to construct barriers and signs to prevent park users from trespassing onto neighboring property, but there are no such preventive barriers on the trail next to my property.

One problem with unplanned and unregulated construction is that there is no designated finish.

Despite the unfinished 2017-19 trails, SWPRD is now constructing more unsafe trails. The only “plans” SWPRD provides for these new trails is a map with lines drawn on it. SWPRD claims that the Island County Planning Department has reviewed these “plans” and determined that no permits are required.

The Planning Department should oversee SWPRD construction to guarantee that building codes, which are designed to keep people and the environment safe, are enforced.

All public trails within sight of private forest-designated property are hazardous. This is why the 2008 Trustland Trails Park Management Plan promised to keep new trails far away from neighboring properties.

Public trails within sight of private lands constitute attractive nuisances that encourage trespassing, and private forest lands are unsafe for hiking. Furthermore, park users within sight of private forest land are not necessarily safe on the trails. For example, private designated-forest owners have the right to allow deer hunting on their property from Sept. 1-Dec. 31, every year.

Such private property hunting is encouraged by the Washington Department of Fish And Wildlife.

This letter is a formal, public notice that the 2017-19 constructed trails in Trustland Trails Park are hazardous, and the current trail construction will increase the danger. SWPRD is responsible for all injuries incurred by park users on hazardous park trails.

SWPRD is also responsible for all injuries that park users who trespass from hazardous trails onto private property incur on that private land.

Richard Panzer

Langley

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