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September 30, 2020

Pollution plagues Arroyo Seco River at Green Bridge near Greenfield

River use under scrutiny after trespassers trash, vandalize popular area

GREENFIELD — Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal and District 3 County Supervisor Chris Lopez visited the Green Bridge near Greenfield last Saturday after continued community complaints and discussion about the crowded parking and trashing of the area.

Although parking isn’t allowed and entering the private property is considered trespassing, visitors continue to park at the bridge and head down to the Arroyo Seco River for recreation.

Large numbers of recent trespassers, however, have left pollution, graffiti and environmental damage. The unincorporated area, west of Greenfield, falls under county jurisdiction, which means sheriff’s deputies would be the ones to enforce violations.

“Now the sheriff knows who should and shouldn’t be on the property and has permission from the landowners to remove anyone not permitted to be on site,” said Lopez after the Aug. 1 tour of the area. “Before, we were primarily able to enforce the existing no parking rules, and the fine was $25 or a tow if the car was on the public roadway. We are working on a revamped ordinance that will extend the no parking, create larger tow zones and up the fines from $25 to $250 and $500 for a second violation.”

Photos had been shared on social media of various piles of litter, and Bernal and Lopez toured the area to see how accurate the pictures and witness complaints were.

“What you can’t capture in the photos is the smells, the urine stench in the area is extremely strong,” Lopez said. “There were also stacked rocks across the river channel, making it impossible for down-stream fish to pass. Rather than retreating to their fall and winter areas, they will not survive the coming months if the issue is not addressed. There were also at least half a dozen fire pits in the river where it was apparent people had been starting fires of all sizes in a river bed with lots of flammable vegetation.”

How to clean the damage is being determined, according to Lopez. Online discussion led to residents volunteering to haul away trash.

“I have a good deal of folks offering to come out and help and I am working on solving the liability issues and acquiring permission from landowners to perform the cleanup work,” Lopez said. “I am hoping it can be a joint effort with several partners handling different areas of responsibility.”

Lopez said he has spoken with visitors at length regarding why they park and enter the river at the Green Bridge, located off Elm Avenue.

“One key issue is the federal camp at the end of the road fills up quickly, and unfortunately their staff has been giving misinformation, telling folks they should head to the Green Bridge,” Lopez said. “I believe our federal partners need to create more access at that point, where there are restrooms, trash service and parking lots.”

Online discussion echoed Lopez’s findings, that sometimes it can be a matter of misinformation or lack of information that leads visitors to use the site as a recreation area. They also noted the need for aquatic recreation in the area, as the nearest pools are in Soledad and King City.

“I would love to see local nonprofits, especially those that are environmentally focused, step up to help spread to the word,” Lopez said about efforts to deter trespassing.

“Greenfield has a special district that owns Oak Park, there are a couple of vacancies if folks would love to serve and bring their recommendations and energy to that board,” he continued. “The City of Greenfield also has a parks department, and I support their efforts to create more water-based recreation. I think an expansion of the parking at the Federal Camp, a new effort to promote our lakes in South County and utilization of the pool at Oak Park are a great start.”

The latest Greenfield City Council meeting had numerous submitted public comments all in support of more aquatic recreation offerings locally.

For now, information and enforcement will be utilized to decrease the problem at the Green Bridge. As those efforts move along, Lopez said cleanup is ongoing.

“The next steps are a continued presence with the amazing assistance of partners like CalFire, CHP and the sheriff to encourage folks to seek out public recreation,” he said. “The new ordinance with higher fines and fees, as well as continued dialogue with those agencies who have an interest. We are considering additional physical barriers in the area as well.”

Sean Roney
Sean Roney
Sean Roney is the reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers education, government and general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.

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