Mysterious line of trees blocks view of Salmon Creek

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photoThe view of Salmon Creek looking west from NW 36th Avenue that David Leonhardt is concerned that a home owner may have taken from the public in order to preserve their own privacy seen here on Friday.

(/The Columbian)

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It’s unclear who planted them or why, but at least one area resident is crying foul over a soldier-straight line of cypress trees screening the public’s view of Salmon Creek just northwest of the Felida Bridge.

David Leonhardt swears he has nothing against trees.

In fact, the Salmon Creek-area resident is a fish biologist who appreciates nature in his personal life and professional livelihood. He said he first noticed the line of more than 100 trees — more than a football field in length — while bicycling along Northwest Seward Road in the spring of 2009. At that point, the saplings weren’t any taller than he was.

But he could see that, as they matured, the trees would block a view of a meandering back channel and green space.

He strongly suspects a nearby homeowner planted the trees, complete with a drip irrigation system, to screen out the road and create a sense of privacy.

“That view to the west is magnificent,” he said. “The view doesn’t belong to those homeowners. It belongs to the people of Clark County.”

Leonhardt is especially peeved by the fact that at least some of the trees may be in the county’s right-of-way — and the county is unwilling to even look into it.

One county official who met Leonhardt at the site said he wouldn’t remove the trees even if they were on county property.

“I understand his concern,” said Kevin Gray, the county’s environmental services director. “We all have our opinion about what’s a beautiful view … but I couldn’t justify spending a great deal of public resources to determine if perhaps someone planted these trees on county right-of-way versus their own property. The trees pose no danger to the public, and they provide their own benefit.”

The fast-growing trees are now nearly 20 feet tall.

“You might as well put up a 20-foot concrete wall,” Leonhardt said.

Often used to create a barrier between properties, the Leyland cypress can reach 60 feet in height. Rob Sculley, an employee at Shorty’s Nursery in Vancouver, said he advises customers that the tree is one of his favorite screening plants because it has a more natural look and survives better than arborvitae, another popular screening plant.

Leonhardt said he has no problem with a private landowner planting cypress trees; his neighbor has some along the edge of his property near Chinook Elementary School.

But he contends they have no place on public property.

“If it’s private land, more power to them,” Leonhardt said. “Let the rich people do what they want.”

The closest property owner said he and his wife only moved into the gated community along Bliss Road a year ago, and they had nothing to do with planting the trees. Even so, property owner Steve Sharp said the trees provide a welcome break screening their property from Seward Road.

“I definitely would not like them taken out,” he said.

Unlike the city of Vancouver, the county does not require homeowners to take out a permit to plant trees within a road right-of-way.

“Where they pose a hazard or a problem, we would certainly pursue their removal,” Gray said.

In this case, Gray said, it would require a professional land survey to determine whether the trees are on or off the county’s right-of-way. And he said it’s just not worth the cost.

“We’re all strapped for money,” he said.

However, it appears certain that at least a sizable number of the trees are definitively within county property. A power line paralleling Seward Road sits between the trees and the creek below, and Clark Public Utilities spokesman Mick Shutt said only two poles on either side of Bliss Road are located on a private easement.

“The rest are county right-of-way,” Shutt said, adding the right-of-way extends 60 feet west of the center line of the road.

The trees stretch for an unbroken line about 400 feet in length. Leonhardt proposes removing a 100-foot-wide section, enough to provide the public with a view without mowing down all of the trees.

Leonhardt said he’s kayaked on Salmon Creek and regularly rides his bike throughout the area. But not everyone can get out on a boat, or walk very far. For them, he said, the view from the road is the only opportunity they have to glimpse one of the county’s natural jewels.

“I love trees, but show me another view like this in Clark County,” he said. “We have one Salmon Creek — that’s all we’ve got.”

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.