Forest Grove pond serves as refuge for some, but others worry about public users

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Double Pond shimmers behind James Chrisman (right), whose stress levels go down when he throws a bobber into the calm waters -- until David Trent calls the police on him and his stress levels skyrocket. Chrisman is glad he finally got a chance to hear Trents side of the pond story, although he still thinks Trent should use discretion and not call the police on him and his neighbor, Alec Lecarno (left). The lush yard with colorful birdhouses and flowers doesn’t look like it belongs to a grumpy, hard-nosed guy, but that’s how James Chrisman, 41, and his neighbor Alec Lecarno, 13, had come to feel about David Trent, who would call police every time they dropped a bobber in the pond behind his home.

Chrisman told Alec about the pond at the west end of Willamina Avenue three years ago. There are actually two ponds, slightly separated — both filled with fish. Like a Norman Rockwell painting sprung to life, Alec began biking down there with his fishing poles.

Chrisman likes to fish there, too, and has seen another guy with two children doing the same.

“Your stress levels go down when you’re down here throwing a bobber,” Chrisman said.

But while this all-American pastime may have been simple decades ago, it’s complicated today by liability questions, pollution, gray areas of the law and different feelings about discretion.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the ponds — known on city maps as Ruder Farms Water Quality Facility — are a hidden natural jewel.

The deep croaks of bullfrogs, the quacking of gadwalls or mallards and the chatter of red-wing blackbirds greet visitors to the rush-ringed water.

Last summer, Alec saw an osprey dive just 20 feet from where he was fishing. “I glanced over right when it hit the water and it swam up with a fish in its talons,” said Alec, who has also seen eagles and nutria around the pond.

Eight years ago, Trent said, a family of river otters showed up and one of the babies continued to return every year.

Doug Meeker, program specialist with the city’s public works department, occasionally visits Double Pond, as he calls it, to see what the beavers are chewing up.

“The Double Pond’s a cool place,” said Meeker, who used to bring his fishing poles to the McCready Ponds at the east edge of Willamina when he was growing up in Forest Grove 40 years ago. “We caught warmwater fish,” Meeker said. “It was a fun time.”

Of the roughly 150 water quality facilities in the city — ranging from vaults beneath manholes to seasonally flooded wetlands — only eight are real ponds, Meeker said. Four of those are publicly maintained, and of those, only one is unfenced: Double Pond.

Double Pond also stands alone in terms of attractiveness and physical accessibility, Meeker said.

It’s also filled with fish. Years ago, they may have come from Gales Creek during winter flooding. But many now come from Chrisman and other people who stock the pond with bass, bluegill, sunfish, catfish — even rainbow trout, said Alec’s father, John Lecarno.

At this time of year, Chrisman said, he’d be pulling 12 to 15 fish an hour from the ponds if he could fish without police showing up. “It’s killing me,” he said.

“It’s not a place kids are going to go swim and inner tube and be loud,” said Lecarno. “It’s just a place to drop a bobber in.”

Neighbor sees dark side

Trent, whose back deck overlooks the pond furthest west, had a different story to tell when he came down to talk as Chrisman, Lecarno and Alec showed the ponds to a News-Times crew last week.

Trent reports a range of rowdy and dangerous behavior, from teenage girls throwing rocks at the ducks to obnoxious young boys pulling down their pants to teenagers shooting BB or pellet guns to a mother dropping off her two young children and leaving them alone for several hours while she drove off on some other business.

Nodding toward Chrisman and Alec, Trent said, “I don’t mind these guys fishing here.”

But if he’s going to be fair, he said, he needs to follow the letter of the law and call police on every trespasser if he calls them on one.

Trent asked Chrisman and Lecarno if they’d approve of climbing over a fence to fish if the ponds were fenced.

“No. Absolutely not,” said Chrisman, who nonetheless sees the mowed, easily accessible, fish-filled ponds as a gray area.

Even Trent has walked on the city property around the ponds — though only to pick up empty bottles, fishing lines and other trash, he said.

Still, when it comes to Alec, Trent doesn’t feel he can use discretion.

The spirit of the law

That sets Trent apart from police. According to Lecarno, the officers who respond to Trent’s calls tell Alec they have no problem with him fishing there, but if someone complains, they have to respond.

Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb likens it to the teens who used to climb the fence after hours and swim in the old outdoor pool at the city’s aquatic center. “These are good kids,” he said. “They swim for a little bit and they wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

But if police failed to enforce the law when a neighbor complained and one of the youth later drowned, the city would be in big trouble, Herb said.

Without a call though, Herb said, officers would not target their scarce resources toward monitoring Double Pond and kicking fisherpeople off.

Police regularly use discretion, he said, citing the example of city parks closing at dusk. “If there is a young couple quietly sitting on a park bench holding hands and talking at 11 at night, I doubt an officer would stop his car, run into the park and say, ‘Hey, you’re trespassing.’”by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Doug Meeker of Forest Groves public works department stands near one of the citys four publicly maintained year-round ponds that double as water quality facilities. Unlike Double Pond, this one -- at Willamina and Strasburg -- is fenced because of the steep, brushy sides that people might easily stumble down and into the water.

The city ordinance is in place so officers can evict problematic people if necessary, Herb said.

Even the director of public works is open to the idea of discretion. “If I were him and it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t make the call,” said Rob Foster, qualifying his comment with the need to run the issue past the city’s risk manager.

Potential downsides to access

Liability is one potential problem with Double Pond. A few years ago, a boy standing on a street-runoff pipe just north of Lincoln Park fell and cut his leg. “He got that flesh-eating bacteria,” remembers Foster. Fortunately, he said, the boy recovered. That area is now fenced.

Anticipating such concerns, Chrisman suggested a waiver system for the pond. Lecarno suggested a fishing-only policy, with posted fishing hours.

Another problem, Foster said, is possible damage to the specially planted sedges, rushes and other species which absorb phosphates and heavy metals from city runoff. The city needs to protect the vegetation, which keeps those pollutants out of Gales Creek and (further down the line) the Tualatin River.

That’s why the city mows around its retention ponds — to keep invasive species from taking over the water-purifying plants.

Still, Foster likes the idea of opening the pond for limited recreation if the hazards aren’t too great. He’d like to visit the site soon. “We spend so much time saying ‘no’ to people,” Foster said. “It would be nice to say ‘yes.’”

Meanwhile, Alec has changed his mind about Trent after meeting him and hearing his side of the story. He can see how abuse of the pond frustrates Trent.

And “I get how he thinks it’s not fair that only a few kids can go down there. But then again if we’re the kids who aren’t doing anything, maybe it should be OK,” Alec said. “I think he could maybe compromise on some things.”

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