Citizens’ group seeks to slow Whatcom’s uptick in trailhead smash and grab robberies

Jul 8, 2022, 3:08 PM

smash and grab...

(Robert Ashworth via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Robert Ashworth via Flickr Creative Commons)

A Whatcom County local, Steve Avila, is so fed up with smash and grabs at local trailheads, that he has started a volunteer movement. He calls the group Whatcom City Zen, and they stand watch while you hike the trails.

Avila started the group after hearing anecdotal stories about rising instances of crime in the Bellingham area. Being a hiker and witnessing car break-ins at the trail heads, he figured he would help out his county by starting there. “We have over two hundred volunteers now. We are still growing every day.”

On weekends, the volunteers set up a tent and offer coffee, snacks, and good ‘ol conversation to passing hikers. When new-arrivers approach, they offer coffee or snacks. More times than not, that driver leaves. Smash and grab diverted.

Avila says he spoke to trail supervisors two weeks ago, and there have been fewer break-ins at main trailheads. Hikers also see them as making a big difference: they feel safe knowing someone is in the lot patrolling.

The volunteers can’t make arrests, but their presence in an empty parking lot deters thieves from coming in and causing trouble.

Whatcom City Zen is actively looking for volunteers.

“People can volunteer for fifteen-minute to an hour or two. Everything helps. And if they are interested they can email us at to get on the roster for more information,” Avila said.

The volunteer group needs the help. Already in 2022, there have been sixty-five break-ins, according to Whatcom County Sheriff’s department

Total trailhead prowls since 1/1/2017: 419

2022 (Jan 1 – June 10): 65

2021: 81

2020: 53

2019: 56

2018: 134

2017: 30

According to Pemco’s Derek wing, “this is a statewide problem and not just something confined to a few trailheads.”  He tells KIRO Newsradio if you have been a victim of a smash and grab, it’s important that you immediately call the police and let them know when and where it happened so that police will know what areas to target. In East King County, police have already arrested three trailhead smash and grabbers.

Wing offers advice and says that you should never approach a potential thief. He also offers steps to ensure your vehicle is safe while you hike.

  • If you can, leave your car at home.
  • Pay an outfitter to drive you to the trailhead.
  • Clean out your car completely. Don’t leave coats, bags, or anything valuable in your car.
  • Leave car-top carriers at home.
  • Most importantly, don’t leave your garage door opener and registration in the car. Thieves can use your registration to get your address and take the garage door to gain access to your home.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun this summer!

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Citizens’ group seeks to slow Whatcom’s uptick in trailhead smash and grab robberies