An Idaho man found guilty of brutally attacking a transgender woman near Newport last year has been banned from all state parks in Lincoln County.
This type of exclusion is relatively rare and the attack by Fred Constanza that left Lauren Jackson, a newcomer to Oregon, with a broken jaw and a fractured skull was a particularly violent outlier. But officials say they have noticed a slight uptick in more mundane issues and increased tension between visitors that often correspond with increasingly crowded parks.
Oregon state parks logged a record number of overnight visitors in 2018, with the bulk of these visitors headed to the Oregon Coast. At the top of the list? Fort Stevens State Park in Clatsop County, with over 200,000 overnight stays that year.
Visitor rates for 2019 have not been finalized, but Chris Havel, associate director at the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, expects them to be on par or slightly less than what officials saw in 2018. The 2018 numbers were buoyed in part by the solar eclipse, which drew thousands eager to watch the event to recreational sites.
Last year, the parks department issued approximately 35 exclusions statewide out of 50 million total visits, according to the state.
More than a third of the exclusions originated in a single park — Valley of the Rogue — which also serves as a freeway rest area and, as a result, is also one of the state’s busiest parks with 1.9 million day visitors in a year.
Fort Stevens State Park sees around 1.2 million and had a handful of exclusions last year — none of them for anything as serious as the attack by Costanza at Agate Beach State Recreation Site.
Most issues in state parks are handled with a verbal warning, officials say. If tempers flare or a visitor does not follow the rules, rangers are supposed to try to address the issue or de-escalate a situation in other ways before taking the final step of banning someone from a park. A person may be banned for up to a year.
“It’s not done lightly,” said Justin Parker, Fort Stevens unit manager.
“But we’re climbing that ladder more often now … at a rate that is commensurate with growing visitor rates,” Havel noted.
In Clatsop County, primarily because of increased visitation to state lands and the potential for conflict, the parks department has established agreements with local law enforcement, paying overtime costs so deputies with the sheriff’s office and troopers with Oregon State Police can conduct extra patrols on the beach.
Parker hopes to increase the hours this summer, contingent on funding.
“I think overall we do have the resources we need, but we are more and more looking to our partners … for the higher-level enforcement contacts,” Parker said.
Locally, he has seen a rise in can and bottle thefts at parks.
When something more serious — such as the attack on Jackson — occurs, state park officials look at staffing levels within individual park units. Employees may be shifted elsewhere to aid busier sites. Most of the staff are seasonal, working for four to six months.
“But the season is getting longer and our park staff trend has not yet caught up to that,” Havel said. “It’s been a challenge and it’s going to continue to be a challenge.”