Big Ditch Access Area

The Big Ditch Access Area south of Conway is closed to the public.

The state Department of Fish & Wildlife closed the Big Ditch Access Area south of Conway on Wednesday because of increasing vandalism at the site.

Dike district personnel and neighboring farm owners still have administrative access to the site, which will reopen to the public Oct. 1.

However, the state may consider closing the recreation site to public use every summer.

“Since we’re seeing most of the site challenges in the summer, we think the seasonal closure can help address issues with a relatively low recreational impact,” said Belinda Rotton, wildlife area manager for Fish & Wildlife. “We may consider an annual summer closure of the site, but we would first go through a formal public review process before making that level of a change.”

Big Ditch is within the Skagit Wildlife Area, which consists of about 16,700 acres of wildlife habitat made up primarily of intertidal estuary, managed agricultural (diked) lands and native habitat, according to Fish & Wildlife.

The Big Ditch site, which is most commonly used by birdwatchers and waterfowl hunters during the fall and winter, has increasingly become a popular place for the dumping of trash, vandalism and target shooting.

“This (problem) has been building for the last year and a half,” Rotton said.

Those who use the site and neighbors have complained, and the local dike district is concerned about potential infrastructure damages, such as to its tidal gates.

“The people there in the summertime tend to be people not out there for fish and wildlife purposes,” Rotton said. “We’ve seen off-roading in the mud and driving on the dike. … But the shooting, the target practice, is what’s most troubling to us. This is the activity we’d like to curtail.”

In addition, wildlife officials have hauled out several loads of trash, including couches, refrigerators and vehicle frames.

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