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October 12, 2006

 In the News


SHREWDNESS OF APES: They say that man is a problem-solving animal, and that was proven again at beautiful Freshwater Park on Saturday. With the emphasis on "animal."

If you've never been out to Freshwater Park, you owe yourself to visit. It's one of the county's crown jewels -- a little slice of Heaven just past the town of Freshwater on the Kneeland Road. There's camping, barbecue areas, a playground, a little room to hike around, even a swimming hole, in the summer. The weather was glorious on Saturday. The morning fog had burned off, and the park was bathed in the full flush of a Humboldt County autumn, probably the North Coast's most pleasant season.

There was only one problem that day. No one from the county's Department of Public Works had come to open the gates. This left revelers in a quandary. There was no other place to park. Freshwater Park has a long, empty stretch of shoulder out in front of its gates, but there's a big "No Parking" sign there, too. There's a turnout across the street, but parking is banned there as well. And there's no place else within walking distance to leave the cars.

What to do? This was the problem faced by group of 20-somethings who arrived at around 11:30 a.m. in a fleet of 4x4s, some of which bore "Support Our Troops" magnetic ribbons of various shades and hues. The young men and women dismounted their vehicles and stared at the park's locked gates for some time. They did not visibly scratch their heads, but their puzzlement was plain. After a while, they backed out and parked in front of the "No Parking" sign. This, too, seemed to stump them. They spent a while there, blasting music on the stereo, before it became evident that they had decided on a course of action.

While the others stood around and watched, one of them retrieved a can of spray paint, which he then used to methodically blacken the "No Parking" sign, which stood fastened to a metal pole. The presumption seemed to be that no one could give them a parking ticket if the sign were not visible. It was a moment's work to make the message from law enforcement illegible. Thus, it seemed, they had protected themselves from a fee.

Or had they? More standing around, more discussion, more thumping music drowning out the serenity of the park, and the group took to action again. This time, three or four of them grabbed the pole and began pulling and pushing it back and forth in an effort to uproot it from the ground. The blacking, it seemed to have been decided, was not enough; any trace of the sign's existence would expose them to liability. Back and forth they swayed, perhaps for 15 minutes or more. In the end, the sign defeated them. It was weakened; it no longer stood straight upright; but stand it did. Its assailants, having done their best, moved into the park, where they were soon joined by more friends and family of various ages -- old folks down to little kids. They proceeded to picnic.

Humboldt County Public Works Director Tom Mattson hadn't yet heard of the damage to county property when he was reached Tuesday, and he wasn't sure why none of his people had been out to open the gate. It could be, as someone who wandered through the park earlier in the morning had claimed, that the regular caretaker at the park had been on vacation, and that responsibility for the gate had fallen through the cracks. "We do rotate people around and back people up when they're on vacation, but we're very short-staffed right now," Mattson said.

As for the creative tactics devised by the problem-solvers Saturday morning, Mattson said that he's pretty much seen it all. Vandalism is pretty rare at manned county parks, he said, but at unmanned ones, anything goes.

"When they unbolt and steal a toilet, they'll do anything," he said. "You have to laugh, but you also have to shake your head and say, `Why?'"

-- Hank Sims


VETERANS STAND DOWN: Local musician and computer technician Steve Dellay has his life on track, but it wasn't always that way. Steve is a Vietnam vet who served as an Army nurse. He suffered from posttraumatic stress when he came back and saw some hard times, even went homeless for a while. He knows first hand that veterans see dark days and need to connect with services for help. That's why he got involved with the North Coast Veterans Stand Down that takes place on the Ferndale Fairgrounds this weekend.

"It involves all of the official agencies from Humboldt Del Norte and Trinity counties," said Dellay, "and not just veteran's support groups, Red Cross, outreach services, the health dept. lawyers, D.A.s and judges helping with legal matters over vets from any era. We'll have medical care, psychological counseling, educational opportunities, information abut claims with the Veteran's Admin., seminars on PTSD, sexual abuse in the military and so on. We'll have food, shelter, a place to get your haircut, a place where your dog can get veterinary services. There are a lot of homeless vets locally, disaffected vets who come here to avoid the urban scene. The unique thing is the vets can access all of these services in one place."

Dellay explained something those associated with the service can tell you; that "stand down" is a military command. "One of the first things you're told to do when you're sworn into the service is to `step forward.' It's a sign of volition to show you're involved, essentially that you're ready to fight. `Stand down' is the order you're given when there's no further need to fight. You stand down and take off the warrior mantel. We want former soldiers from any conflict to come in with your brothers and sisters and through camaraderie with other veterans, get healed."

Dellay's role is to organize the Stand Down entertainment. His band, NightHawk will play Saturday along with Todd Krider, Lokoyokol, Creamed (a Cream cover band), Tamaras (with Nate Kaplan) and he hopes, Clint Warner. Sunday's entertainment includes Dr. Squid, Top Dead Center and SoHum's Lost Coast Marimba Band.

The North Coast Veterans Stand Down takes place from morning to night Saturday, Sunday and Monday Oct. 14, 15 and 16, at Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale. Free transportation is available. For details call Redwood Vet Center - 444-8271, Event Director Kim Hall - 826-6197 or Dave Stancliff - 839-1501.

-- Bob Doran



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