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Percival Creek Canyon

I was the victim of a theft a couple of years ago. Some of the stolen items were found in the possession of a heroin abuser with open felony warrants in Percival Creek Canyon. The experience not only frustrated me, but also got me interested in the area and its current state of affairs. As a kid, I used to go down to the little-known bridge across Percival Creek near Capitol Lake to see herons, otter, and enjoy the tranquil sound of the water. These days I see drugs being sold and used, stolen property, and absolute environmental devastation.

OVER 15 YEARS have passed since a Percival Creek Canyon trail was first proposed and studied. The following quotes are from an April 23, 2008 briefing to the Olympia City Council by the Olympia Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, with the following summary of public input:

"Trails were specifically noted as a means of increasing bicycle and pedestrian access. General statements such as the following were common:

'Improve trail network so people have the option to leave their cars at home.'

'Percival Canyon would make a great bike route. Provide access to downtown and SPSCC'

'Trails are needed to provide more access to the downtown. For example, Percival ravine.'

By far the most frequent reference to a specific trail alignment was the Percival Creek Canyon."

Rather than pursuing the potential of a vital trail that could link downtown, west Olympia, north Tumwater, South Puget Sound Community College, and the Black Lake Restoration Project (commonly known as Black Lake Meadows), our local municipalities have let a once pristine and scenic byway become a new dumping ground and camping area for squatters. Complaints of drug dealing, theft, and pollution have led to the canyon becoming nearly unused by area residents.

Salmon spawning up Percival Creek all the way onto the campus of South Puget Sound Community College has gone unappreciated by area residents too afraid to set foot in the canyon surrounding Percival Creek. Recent deaths from a drug overdoses and a murder, along with an explosion of people being allowed to live in encampments in the canyon have only added to the problem.

While encampments have brought used needles, drug trafficking, and an avoidance of usage by area residents, there is a more basic issue affecting Percival Creek Canyon. Campers have built massive structures right on the creek bank, some as big as 1500 square feet. Campers have diverted water from the creek, and dumped waste directly into it. Additionally, areas used by campers to cross the creek are some of the most easily disturbed parts of the creek bed, home to one of the most environmentally sensitive species of salmon, the Chinook.

As we consider our area's regional planning, transportation, and homeless strategies, I would suggest we consider including the following as high priorities:

1. Clean up Percival Creek Canyon. Remove all junk, garbage, structures, and medical waste.
2. Remove all encampments and trespassers polluting Percival Creek.
3. Patrol it weekly, engaging with anyone attempting to set up camp there.
4. Explore options for creating a pedestrian trail and/or bike path via partnership between Olympia, Tumwater, Thurston County, WADOT, and the railroad. Link the trail to Black Lake Meadows loop, with link-up to Cooper Point Road at the Auto Mall for connection to West Olympia.

The traditional Rails-To-Rails approach is only possible on railroad tracks that are no longer in use, which is not the case with the tracks that run through Percival Creek Canyon. However, there may be a vested interest in aligning a trail near these active tracks while they are still in use. Currently, people walk right on the tracks while passing through the canyon, increasing the risk of a train-vs-pedestrian accident. In addition to decreasing that risk, a recreational trail would also increase usage and help decrease criminal behavior. While this may sound ambitious, that is often the initial perception regarding creating major pedestrian trails. Whether similar to the simple trail in Tumwater Historical Park under the I-5 bridge or more developed like the Chehalis Western Trail. It is worth prioritizing and pursuing.

Written by David Ross
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Ross For Olympia
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