- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Covering 1,500 acres on the northeast edge of Bend, Juniper Ridge was owned by Deschutes County before it was given to the city in 1990.

Envisioned as an industrial hub and the most likely home for the region’s first four-year university, the area languished during the recession and construction downturn, and it is now dotted with multiple campsites and the garbage and possessions left behind by campers.

Tuesday, a nine-man inmate work crew was at Juniper Ridge for the first day of what’s expected to be a three-day cleanup effort, according to David Abbas, the interim director of the city’s right of way operations and maintenance department.

Abbas said the Sheriff’s Office is providing the inmate labor to the city at no cost.

Paul Neiswonger, a streets supervisor with the city, said it’s been difficult for the city to maintain a handle on camps and dumpsites on the sprawling, forested site.

The first site cleaned up Saturday, a short distance from the Les Schwab Tire Centers headquarters, didn’t even exist a year ago when Neiswonger was at Juniper Ridge helping install rock barriers to keep out unauthorized traffic.

With thick trees and ground cover obstructing views beyond about 50 yards, aerial photos have been one tool the city has used to identify dump sites and campsites at Juniper Ridge, Neiswonger said.

“The only way you really can do it is the way I did it - last year, GoogleEarth updated its maps,” he said.

Neiswonger said the barriers haven’t kept campers from accessing Juniper Ridge. Most campers travel on foot or by bicycle, he said, and more permanent barriers could slow the response to a wildfire or other emergency in the area.

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Mahnke, helping to supervise the crew at Juniper Ridge on Tuesday, said he’d encountered a number of campers, some of whom shared the city’s concern that garbage was getting out of hand and have been trying to clean up the mess on their own.

Mahnke said although campers were advised the city wants them to vacate the area, they were allowed to stay put on Tuesday.

“We don’t try to hit live camps,” he said. “If there’s people in them, we don’t try to take their stuff. We try to be compassionate and not kick them when they’re down.”

Tuesday afternoon, at the largest of the identified dump sites, inmates used rakes and shovels to move piles of clothing, shoes, old books, food wrappers and other items onto large tarps, which they hauled to a waiting truck. Larger items were found at the site as well, including mattresses, a recliner, an air conditioner and a coffee maker, along with some potentially dangerous finds: 25 hypodermic needles and three live scorpions.

Mahnke said the inmate crews were on target to collect 12 to 15 large pickup truckloads of garbage and debris on their first day at Juniper Ridge.

Sheriff’s Capt. Shane Nelson said inmates selected for the work release program at the jail are nonviolent offenders deemed to be low escape risks who are committed to turning their lives around once they’re released.

“They get a good sense of a good, hard work ethic, the inmates enjoy it, and it’s an excellent community service,” he said.

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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