Hill climbing’ damages popular Badger Mountain trail

Hill climbing’ damages popular Badger Mountain trail

By Paula Horton, Herald staff writer

A popular hiking trail and natural habitat on Badger Mountain was severely torn up by a Kennewick man who said he was just out “doing some hill climbing” in his ’85 Chevy truck.

James Dunlap, 30, said he didn’t set out to damage the Benton County park — and in fact didn’t even know it was a park.

“I was unaware that it was illegal to go up there or anything like that,” Dunlap said. “I was unaware there were trails on the hill. Why would anybody walk up a hill?”

Benton County officials and Friends of Badger Mountain members, however, are in disbelief that someone would so callously destroy the land that was built by volunteers wanting to preserve the open space and scenic views in the area.

“There’s quite a lot of disappointment that people were actually so stupid to think they could tear up a place like that,” said Jim Langdon, trailmaster for the Friends of Badger Mountain. “Why these guys felt they needed to be up there and four-wheel, I don’t know.”

The trail’s still open and is safe for hikers, but it’ll take time and money to fix the damage, said Adam Fyall, Benton County’s community development coordinator.

“People are not allowed to go driving up there. There is an easement for operators of the tower, but at the bottom of the road there’s a gate that says no unauthorized vehicles allowed,” Fyall said. “Plus, it’s a matter of common sense. … People need to make sensible, responsible decisions and obey the rules.”

The destruction was reported to the sheriff’s office at 7:15 a.m. Saturday after a hiker went about a quarter-mile up Canyon Trail and saw a white truck stuck in the gully below.

The trail, which is lined with rocks weighing between 50 pounds and 200 pounds to keep the trail in place, was crossed at least three times. Several rocks were knocked off the trail, some falling quite a ways down the hill, Langdon said.

Wide gouges and holes also were cut into the hillside’s soft soil, he said.

“We haven’t fully figured out how to repair the damage yet,” Langdon said. “The damage to the trail will have to wait until I get adequate soil moisture because it’s all dusty up there. Replanting of native vegetation will take a while.

“Most of it will be volunteer labor and there will be some costs associated with supplies,” he added.

The biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to remove Dunlap’s truck from the ravine without causing more damage. The dirt is so soft and the gully is so steep, trying to tow it out will just tear up the ground even more, Langdon said.

Lifting the truck out with a helicopter is likely the only solution that won’t cause more damage, but the cost would be steep.

Officials also don’t know if the stuck truck poses any environmental hazards.

“Not only has he torn up a big part of the mountain, we don’t know if there’s transmission fluid, oil, brake grease or more leaking out,” Fyall said. “There’s all kinds of things that have happened or still could happen. There’s no quick fix.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Brian White said Dunlap can expect to receive an infraction in the mail for taking a vehicle off the roadway in a designated county park or preserve.

It wasn’t clear how much the fine for that is, but White said the county also could request Dunlap be responsible for covering the cost of repairs.

The sheriff’s office also has forwarded the report to the prosecutor’s office for a possible malicious mischief charge. No decision has been made yet.

Dunlap said he didn’t have any malicious intent when he and his brother went off-roading at 2 a.m. Saturday. He said they drove up a main road to the top of the hill, but didn’t come across a gate or sign saying they couldn’t be there.

They were getting ready to drive back down when the brakes went out just as they crested the side of the hill, he said.

“The truck didn’t want to stop going. I slammed on the E-brake and we went down,” he said. “I slid to the main trail and that’s where the truck stopped. … It was a wild ride.”

After fruitlessly trying to back the truck back up the hill, he tried backing it down through the ravine, but got stuck in a bunch of tumbleweeds.

Dunlap said he’s trying to see if he can run a bulldozer up the ravine to get the truck out, but Fyall said there’s no way the county’s going to let that happen. Dunlap plans to extract the truck this weekend.

“I’m not going to destroy anything, and I’m going to fix anything I do,” he said. “I didn’t know there were trails up there. I guess I do now.”

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