POCATELLO — Use of the Portneuf Wellness Complex has been up significantly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bannock County officials have noticed an equivalent increase in reports of vandalism and reckless driving at the facility.
Based on the frequency at which garbage cans have filled and car counts in the parking lot, officials say the complex was busier throughout April than during a typical July, which is peak season.
“It’s a wonderful problem to have in a way,” said Guy Patterson, business manager and event director for the Portneuf Wellness Complex & Event Center and the Bannock County Fairgrounds. “With kids being out and the COVID-19 things, it’s made it so usage is perhaps as high as it’s been.”
Patterson said the increased use has also brought more traffic, as well as an unsettling number of reports about unsafe activities taking place at the complex.
He’s personally witnessed or seen surveillance footage of people drag racing in the parking lot, driving vehicles on sidewalks and onto the beach, “spinning cookies” with their vehicles on the lawn and cars towing youths riding skateboards. Patterson said there was also evidence of vehicles driving on the beach during the winter, and a few people have been caught engaging in lewd acts on the docks.
“There are races that take place Saturday nights in the parking lot of the complex,” Patterson said. “I can go over and try to break them up, but usually they break up as they see me coming.”
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to triple its patrolling of the complex and has caught a couple of people in the act of causing damage with their cars. For example, the sidewalks have cracked in places.
Patterson said the offenders were sentenced in court to community service to help offset the expense the county incurred.
Patterson requests that motorists stop driving through the complex as a shortcut to other destinations, concerned that a pedestrian may be struck. He also worries skateboarders being towed by cars could result in someone getting run over.
“Luckily we haven’t had anybody hurt yet. That’s really the greatest fear,” Patterson said.
The Portneuf Health Trust donated the 80-acre complex to the county in September of 2015.
“I think what we’d ask the public is it’s a beautiful facility. ... We’d like the public to take their part in helping us police this,” Patterson said. “If they see dogs off leashes or kids driving recklessly, call the sheriff’s department. We’re trying to preserve this asset for the foreseeable future.”