Fighting for Island Access

Glassbar Island, situated along the Willamette River and known best for its reputation as a nudist beach, might undergo some major changes, much to the chagrin of a group of community members who treasure it.

To Alice Stroud, Glassbar Island represents a peaceful retreat, and in the summer, she visits the area every day. She loves the sense of community she’s built with other visitors over the years.

So when Stroud heard that land access to her beloved park was being closed for up to 10 years to restore the property, she had objections. “If this place stopped being accessible, I don’t know if I would still live in Eugene,” Stroud says. “It’s such a precious, special and incredible place.”

The island and its surrounding areas are known formally as the Willamette Confluence Area, which consists of land owned by entities like Lane County Waste Management, State Parks and Recreation and The Nature Conservancy, among others. The park consists of Glassbar Island and the adjacent riverbank, and it’s designated as river-access-only property, meaning that visitors to the park can legally get there by boat, but not by foot. However, there is a long history of people accessing the area by crossing through about 100 yards of land currently owned by Lane County Waste Management. From its access point off Franklin Boulevard, the trail winds through a forested area and is maintained by members of the community who visit the park.

Brian Perry, who visits the area daily during the summer, says he can’t imagine his life without access to the park. “All of my friends are there,” he says. “It’s a place where I belong.”

But the entities that control the area see things a little differently. Patti Hansen, manager of Lane County Waste Management, says that the Bonneville Power Administration offered Lane County and other landowners a funding opportunity that would allow them to restore natural habitat and eventually turn the area into an accessible park like Delta Ponds. In order to do that, Hansen says they need to close the site to the public. “The more people respect what we’re trying to do out there, the faster it will go and the faster it can open up again for passive recreation,” she says.

In a Jan. 15 County Commission meeting, the landowners proposed closing public access not only to restore the land but also to improve public safety. Commissioner Jay Bozievich spoke of a dead body, prostitution and drug use in the park, and he called Lane County a “hot spot for human trafficking.”

Hansen says that illegal activity has been a big issue on the property. “The Lane County Sheriff’s Office is dispatched for burglary, theft of vehicles and intoxicated subjects,” Hansen says. “So there’s a lot of criminal mischief, and I’ve got sheriff logs which show the very long list of issues that are out there. There’s a lot of liability.”

Dan Bell of The Nature Conservancy says their property has experienced “extraordinary trespassing problems,” which interfere with TNC’s ability to safely restore the land.

Stroud says she’s never seen any prostitution or human trafficking in the 16 years she’s gone to the park. She says the area has its problems, but nothing that makes her feel unsafe.

This viewpoint is also supported by Perry, who attended the Feb. 12 commissioner’s meeting along with Stroud and five others from the “core group of users” who wished to make their voices heard.

“From my observation, I’ve never seen prostitution, human trafficking or drug trafficking,” Perry says. “We are not auctioning off minorities out there; that’s just silly.”

Perry has started an online petition to protest the closure, and the petition had 106 signatures at time of print. He has organized weekly meetings of about 25 people to discuss the issue and decide how to stop the closure.

The debate isn’t over. At the Feb. 12 commission meeting, Commissioner Sid Leiken said he had received emails and comments from others regarding the same issue. “We’ll try to move this issue forward as quick as possible,” he said. “You are being heard.”