Take a visit to Riverfront Park on the west side of Hermiston and you will see folks walking their dog, having a picnic or simply enjoying the view of the Umatilla River. It’s one of Hermiston’s most popular parks.
The nearby Oxbow Trail offers people a chance to take a nice long walk around the 222-acre property where native birds and other wildlife make their home.
But veer off the trail and into the trees and brush and you can see evidence of other uses, as well – former campsites used by the homeless and, well, others.
The campsites are all gone now. Eileen Laramore says there hasn’t been a campsite on the property since May, but she says they will eventually return.
“We’ve pretty much got it under control now, but it’s just a matter of time,” she says.
Laramore is part of a small group of volunteers called Friends of Oxbow. They have ongoing projects they carry out such as picking up trash, pulling invasive weeds and planting new native trees.
They also take walks around the property from time to time looking for illegal camps. If they come across people camping, they politely tell them campsites are not allowed. They aren’t enforcing the no-camping rule, but simply informing them, she says. If no one is at the campsite, they leave them a note.
Laramore says there are two types of people setting up camps on the Oxbow property.
“Criminal minds and the homeless,” she says.
She says the homeless people her group encounters are usually cooperative. They’ll clean up their trash and move out in many cases, if only temporarily.
The others – the criminal minds, as she calls them – aren’t so compliant.
“The homeless people cooperate,” she says. “The criminal minds go deeper into the brush.”
Laramore says she and her group are sympathetic to the homeless who set up camps. They have even brought them clothes and food while encouraging them to move on.
“It’s not that we have a lack of compassion, but camping is not allowed,” she explains.
To make it more difficult for people to set up camps, the Bureau of Reclamation received a grant last year to remove a large amount of Russian olive trees that had provided cover for the camps.
Large swaths of land were cleared of the trees last fall, leaving fewer areas and less cover for the clandestine camps.
Last year, her group went in and spent hours removing garbage from the area. When they were done, she says, they had filled 25 large SOLV bags of abandoned clothes alone.
She will often leave empty garbage bags on trees near would-be campsites. Her hope is that those illegally setting up camps will at least take care of the trash.
Laramore, 69, does what she does because of her love of the Oxbow property.
“Every section of Oxbow is different,” she says. “Every section has its own personality.”