- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

HERMISTON, Ore. (AP) - An outline of the Hermiston butte now graces the city’s new logo, but access to the real-life butte has ruffled some feathers lately.

The landmark’s official access point is from a parking lot off of Elm Avenue, where hikers and joggers can access the butte’s criss-crossing trails from a gravel utility road.

Some find it more convenient to access the butte from the south side, however, through a section of private property off Standard Avenue. Now that the property owner has placed “No trespassing” signs there and asked people to stay off of his land, the request has prompted some complaints on social media and at least one call to the police from a resident asking if it was legal to hike to the top of the butte.

Tom Davis said for years he has stayed quiet as Hermiston residents cut through his property, but a combination of factors - including problems with litter, liability concerns and a few confrontations with aggressive trespassers - have prompted him to post the signs along the edge of his property.

“I’ve got to get a grip on it,” he said.

Davis owns more than three acres along the southeast portion of the butte, including the gravel access point on Standard Avenue, the path that stretches from there along the Hermiston Irrigation District canal and a large section of the grassy field next to the spray park. The end of the chainlink fence behind the spray park marks the end of the city’s property and the beginning of Davis’s. Anyone heading to the left of the fence along the canal is trespassing.

Davis said he has “tolerated a lot” through the years. But an incident on the Fourth of July, in which people refused to move off of his land as a fireworks-caused fire burned nearby, caused him to decide to “buckle down” and place signs at each point a trail crosses into his property.

The fact that several trails on the butte lead directly to Davis’s property has created an understandable public impression that his land is owned by the city. Now that he is making it clear it is not, Davis said he understands it’s frustrating for people who have gotten used to using the area in the past. However, he said an easy fix would be for the city to put in a gate or two in the fence along Butte Park, giving people a legal access point directly onto the publicly-owned part of the butte.

“People are coming to jog or hike anyway,” he said. “So they’ve got to go a couple of extra blocks.”

Hermiston Parks and Recreation director Larry Fetter said the city is aware of the tensions that have cropped up. He said the city and Davis have been communicating about a range of possible fixes, from building a fence to leasing some of the land.

“We recognize that to be a problem and we’re trying to solve it,” he said.

Fetter said the goal is to preserve as much public access as possible while still being respectful of property owners who border the butte.

He said it is hard to measure how much traffic the area gets, but he would guess that between 50 and 100 people use it on any given summer day. They access a “patchwork” of trails that include some city-made paths, the utility access road and a number of trails that “just kind of formed” through the unofficial efforts of some users. The Hermiston Irrigation District has an easement where the canal borders the eastern side, and at the top of the butte is a water reservoir, a metal cross maintained by Oasis of Hope Church and telecommunications equipment.

“It’s a pretty good view from up there,” Fetter said. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment to stop up there after jogging.”

Much of the land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, with the city acting as an official steward. Other sections are owned by the city outright. In 2011, a 1.5 acre section of land on the southeast side of the butte went up for sale and the city bought it from a private citizen in order to prevent houses from being built alongside the distinctive landmark.

Overall the public property is considered part of Butte Park. That means city park rules - including no fires, no camping, no alcohol and no off-leash pets - apply. Even though several trails lead to Davis’s property, and people have used the Standard Avenue access point for years, Fetter asked people to be good neighbors and heed the signs that inform them when they’re about to cross into private land.


Information from: East Oregonian, https://www.eastoregonian.com

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