History shows Camp Bay beachfront has never been public

By Steve Klatt
Reader Contributor

Early mornings frequently find me glancing out my kitchen window for the first trace of dawn to the east as I write, read the papers or do paperwork at the kitchen table. This morning is especially poignant as I reread an article in which I am somewhat skewered by a former reporter who seems to have lost the professional standard of checking both sides of a story [Perspectives, “Camp Bay beach giveaway disputed,” Feb. 3, 2022]. 

She has made much of my conflict of interest in decisions about the Camp Bay Road, but might have inquired and learned I was quite cognizant of that conflict of interest, declaring it to the commissioners and the Road Department even before the road vacation matter was on the table for consideration. 

Turning all matters pertaining to the road over to Matt, our engineer, and Jason, the district foreman and then assistant director, explains a bit about Commissioner Dan McDonald’s statement regarding my personal conflict being “not relevant.”

The darkness that lingers longer out the westside toward the road reminds me of the stark contrast I find between my personal knowledge of the history of Camp Bay and numerous interpretations I am seeing presented to incite a public furor over the request for a road vacation. This area has been my home ground for 65 years, including my current home for the past 28 years, and I have always enjoyed rambling around the entire peninsula. Although Garfield Bay was truly my stomping grounds, I have known many of the local old timers throughout my life.

I learned a great deal about the history of Camp Bay as I have worked with descendants of John Van Scravendyk, the homesteading family, for the past 10 years. While engaged as a consulting property manager and becoming an officer in their corporation, I am not a principal and have never had a material interest in the property. When Bonner County was created in 1907, the population out here was sparse and roads were scarce to connect the few folks around here.

The Camp Bay Road came into existence through the local residents petitioning the commissioners in 1908 for the creation of a public road with them granting land for the road’s right of way. There were actually two roads created at that time and the other connected the Camp Bay Road from Livermore Lake to Glengary Bay, where the ferry landing and the post office were situated. The request was credible enough for the commissioners to have the proposal inspected by their viewer and a viewer’s report was approved for the creation of the public roads. 

The road as described and created followed the existing Van Scravendyk road through his property to Camp Bay. That road was a wagon trail and not likely to have been more than 15 feet wide at any point — that is what was granted as public right of way.

A survey of the road completed by the county in 1909 terminated at the high water mark, which is a rather nebulous point when attempting to re-establish it today as a finite spot on the ground. Something many people do not understand is the substantial difference between the Lake Pend Oreille high water marks of 2020 with our current dam system (2062.5 elevation) and the springtime floods before the dams with their waves creating a high water mark of driftwood in 1900. 

As a youngster fishing on the lake with some of the old boys around the bay, I had these flooded high water marks pointed out to me on a number of occasions and they were many feet above the summer pool elevation of the lake. 

The petition for the road leading up to the viewer’s report stated the intent of the road was to provide settlers an outlet to Camp Bay, but did not state an outlet to Lake Pend Oreille, and there really is a notable difference in that language. 

For all the years that I have known Camp Bay, the beachfront was the private property of the Green (Van Scravendyk) family and anyone using the beach was a guest of the family. The beach has been posted “no trespassing” for many years and deputies have trespassed a number of uninvited people from that beach in the past.

Folks, I am a strong advocate for preserving and enhancing public access to the water for all of us to enjoy, but I cannot condone attempting to claim waterfront lands that have never been public. Because an attorney — attempting to gain physical access for his client that never existed in the past — makes claims about public ownership of the beachfront, that alone does not alter historical facts.

Should the court rule in the future that there is in fact a public ownership of some waterfront in Camp Bay, it is highly unlikely to be 50 feet in width because that was never granted to Bonner County in the past. 

Prescriptive road law is being mixed in this public consternation with a historical right of way grant and they are quite different.

Steve Klatt is the recently retired director of the Bonner County Road and Bridge Department.

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