Bellingham man forms citizens brigade to stop trail break-ins

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Fed up with trailhead break-ins, a Bellingham man started a citizen’s brigade that monitors parking lots. They can’t arrest anyone, but the hope is that their presence will prevent these petty crimes from happening.

Steve Avila founded the Whatcom County-based watchdog group. Avila says that participants donate an hour of their time each week to patrolling vulnerable lots.

“The Parks Department let me know the biggest ones getting hit,” said Avila. “There was a dozen cars getting hit in one day at one of our major trailheads.”

According to Avila, paths off scenic Chuckanut Drive have experienced the most problems.

Two weeks ago, hiker Jim Thomsen travelled from Kingston to Bellingham with that very warning in mind. Thomsen tells us a friend had posted on Facebook just days before his trip that they fell victim to a smash-and-grab while visiting Teddy Bear Cove in Chuckanut Bay. Thomsen thought that by taking the less-frequented Y Street trail, he’d be safe. Sadly, he was wrong.

“It was a sparsely populated trail, which is part of the appeal,” said Thomsen. “Probably part of the appeal for prowlers as well.”

The way Avila sees it, there’s not much you can do to prevent your car from being a target.

“There’s people that have taken everything out of their cars and they still got broken in,” said Avila. “It’s almost become a production run for these guys, they pop the windows, grab what they can and leave.”

Thomsen is grateful nothing was taken from inside his car, but it’ll be expensive to fix that broken window. He says his insurance premium won’t cover the damage.

“My fiancée and I are getting married in August,” said Thomsen. “We definitely have much better uses for a thousand dollars than give it to Geico.”

While this incident happened in Whatcom County, the problem is statewide. Amanda McCarthy, with Washington State Parks and Recreation, says there has been a notable increase in trailhead smash-and-grabs.