KELOWNA – Mushroom Beach in Kelowna means something different to everyone.
To some it’s a peaceful mecca of freedom, where music fills the air, police look the other way when it comes to drug use, and clothing is optional.
To residents in the area however, it’s percieved as a growing danger to their children, homes and peace of mind.
It’s unclear what’s changed in the last year, but one of the most interesting theories comes from a woman who didn’t want her name used.
Speaking on a condition of anonymity, she says for many years Hells Angel Joseph Bruce Skreptak lived next to the beach and kept users in check. In February he and an accomplice were sentenced to five years in jail for an arrest in which he and three other men were found with a cache of weapons near Tappen, B.C. Even since then, she says, illegal activity has increased. The house directly next to the beach is currently for sale for $1.6 million and is listed to Skreptak.
“He used to go out there and scream at them and they’d listen because of who he is,” she says. “He was a great neighbor to have and he contributed to keeping the beach clean.”
Julie Cancela is the captain of the neighbourhood watch for hundreds of homes around Lake Avenue, McTavish Avenue, McDougall Street and Riverside Avenue. She says in the last year the beach access at the end of the cul-de-sac is attracting drug dealers and their customers, who speed up and down the streets day and night. And she doesn’t think police are doing enough to stop it.
“It’s just not safe,” she says. “We don’t have a problem with the nudity. It’s the drugs and the drinking.”
Mary Oldring says in the years she has lived near the beach she has seen people passed out, fights, people selling and buying drugs and urinating on private property. She has tried confronting some of the rowdier users of the beach in the past but has been threatened or ignored.
“I would like to see this part of the beach monitored the same way parks around the Yacht Club are monitored,” she says. “Somebody in a uniform who is keeping an eye on things. This is a public park and everybody should be able to use it, not just a few.”
Cancela agrees, saying it’s an issue of safety, not nudity.
“People here do not feel safe in this park. They bring their families and they leave because they see all this drug activity and they don’t want their kids exposed to it.”
Oldring says she worries it’s just a matter of time before a child is hurt by one of the many vehicles that speed up and down the street day and night, seven days a week in the summer.
“We see bicyclists and cars racing down to the park, meet somebody and then take off,” she says. “People walk here, kids play here. These people don’t realize this is a neighbourhood and we can’t seem to slow them down.”
Hayley Boucher also lives in the area and says for her the problem goes beyond safety.
“When people are yelling and screaming and starting fights and leaving their junk behind it’s not showing respect,” she says. “Maybe not all of them are leaving stuff behind, but there’s more stuff being left behind than is being picked up.”
The park has several large garbage cans but cigarette butts are everywhere.
On Wednesday afternoon, June 24, a surprise visit by two bylaw officers caused a noticeable change in the crowd and although no tickets were issued, one bottle of vodka was confiscated and several vehicles sped off when they saw the marked car.
“That happens when police or bylaw are here,” Cancela says. “We’d like to see more of that.”
Boucher says the lack of a proper bathroom is also causing problems.
“The closest bathroom is in City Park and people don't seem to want to go that far, so use our alley to pee in. Even girls are dropping their butts.”
All three women say they have seen users relieve themselves in the neighbourhood, but that pales in comparison with some of their other discoveries. Cencela once found a used hypodermic needle in her yard.
“It’s getting out of control,” she says. “We have to do something.”
One man in his early 20s who would not give his name says he comes to the beach every day, not to do drugs, but to hang out with his friends and enjoy the freedom which can’t be found any place else.
“This is a great beach with a lot of really cool, laid-back people,” he says. “Yeah there are some bad ones, but it’s mostly just people who don’t want to be hassled.”
Cancela says many of the people in the neighbourhood have gone to police with their concerns and have been told to call when they notice illegal behaviour.
“They either don’t come or they come hours later,” she says. “We’re not saying they’re not doing their job, they’re trying the best they can, but they’re low on staff and the criminals know that.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.