Whatcom County seeks solutions to conflict between Nooksack River tubers, landowners

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 20, 2013 

Responsibility for misbehaving tubers on the south fork Nooksack River is falling not on the tubers themselves, or riverside property owners, but on the Whatcom County government.

To make up for the lack of a county policy on the popular but controversial activity, the county executive is forming a team with the Sheriff's Office, the Parks and Recreation Department and Public Works to fix the problem of unruly tubers and unhappy riverfront landowners.

The group's work may get some guidance from the county Parks and Recreation Commission. It meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 20, to discuss tubing, which is allowed from Acme to the point where the south fork joins the north fork Nooksack River.

The commission will meet at Silver Lake Park, 9006 Silver Lake Road in Maple Falls.

Jeff Margolis, a parks commission member and owner of Everybody's Store on Potter Road, is a self-appointed spokesman for the tubers.

The county has an obligation, Margolis told the County Council on Tuesday, June 18, to keep people safe as they congregate by the hundreds on the river on hot days.

"It's only human to want to go to the river at this time," he said. "We have to come to grips with this."

Margolis acknowledges the tubers can be a nuisance, often getting drunk and sometimes belligerent.

"It's gone downhill because we haven't paid attention to it," he said.

Undersheriff Jeff Parks listed the problems tubers have brought to the river and its neighbors: trespassing, drunkenness, littering and even assaults.

"It's been pretty egregious, some of the things that have been related to the sheriff," Parks told council members.

And it's not just a few bad tubers who ruin it for everyone, said Lynne Wheeler, a lifelong Acme Valley resident.

"It's actually many that ruin it," Wheeler said. Few tubers respect property or pick up their trash, she said.

"It's a volatile situation for a community member like me," she said.

Council member Barbara Brenner, who has met with Acme Valley residents to discuss the tubers, said the county can fix the problem and should pay for it.

Simply sending more sheriff's deputies to the valley won't work, said both Brenner and Parks. In addition to enforcement, Brenner said, the county must put up signs, educate the public about safe and appropriate behavior, and provide portable toilets and trash cans.

Parking also must be addressed, council members said.

"I think we have an obligation," Brenner said. "It's public recreation. It exists. It's one of the historic amenities of Whatcom County."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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