Locals, the police department and the sheriff’s department are all doing what they can to decrease drug abuse in Pogonip

Photo by Kathryn Power.
Photo by Kathryn Power.

Not many people would expect to find the site of the most prolific drug problem in the county in such a serene environment.

But at a September meeting of local organization Santa Cruz Neighbors, Steve Carney, former head of the Sheriff’s Office Narcotic Enforcement Team, shared some surprising information: Pogonip State Park, located directly across Coolidge Drive from Stevenson College, is the “meth capital” of Santa Cruz County, where between 10 and 30 drug arrests are sometimes made in a single 10-hour police shift.

In addition to being well-trafficked by drug users and dealers, Pogonip also attracts numerous families, hikers and UC Santa Cruz students each week who want to explore the park’s terrain.

Though meth dealing and use are reportedly most common in the area, arrests involving heroin, cocaine and marijuana are also common. Because these various forms of drug use in the area have continued to increase, worries about wildfire risks and possible run-ins between transients and recreationists prompted officials to close six different areas of the park in September.

UCSC’s cross-country club coach David Rosen, who has frequented the running trails in Pogonip since he moved to Santa Cruz in 1991, says he regularly comes upon suspicious activity in the area.

“I have been out running by different areas in Pogonip where I’ve seen [homeless encampments], but for the most part I try to keep to the main trails,” Rosen said.

At the September Santa Cruz Neighbor’s meeting, police officers explained that maintaining safety in Pogonip — for both local residents and students — is their top priority.

“With the drug users that we’ve been arresting, we have been pulling weapons off of them such as guns and knives,” said Zach Friend, public information officer for the Santa Cruz Police department. “When people are reaching that point where they need to use violent acts to protect their sales in their area, you can potentially have an innocent person getting injured in this kind of situation.”

Despite its proximity to the UCSC campus, many nearby residents remain unaware of the drug activity and the increase in violence in Pogonip because of its secluded and hard-to-reach location.

“This is the first time I have heard about any drug activity going on in Pogonip,” said Christina Lee, a third-year living in the Porter apartments. “I was looking forward to hiking down there but it seems a little dangerous to go down there now.”

Friend explained that the problem has been particularly hard to tackle because the terrain and nature of the trails makes the area difficult to police.

“In Pogonip, it is easy for people to see us coming in and they attempt to scatter,” Friend said. “So they really have a sense of anonymity in there away from areas of population.”

Despite the newly imposed barricade and increased law enforcement efforts, only time will tell if the area will return to being a safe haven for students and residents, or remain a center of drug activity.