Summit County and U.S. Forest Service urge visitors to ‘leave no trace’ of trash in backcountry
January 5, 2018
"Pack it in, pack it out" has been a common saying reminding backcountry visitors to take their trash home with them. Summit County and U.S. Forest officials are trying to drive that message home in the new year as more visitors are getting careless and leaving refuse behind, leading to problems ranging from environmental degradation to human-wildlife conflict.
Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch said the problem grows with Summit's popularity. "As we get more people in Summit County, we definitely get more trash and refuse," he said. "It seems like the ethic doesn't seem as strong as it once was in terms of cleaning up behind yourself."
Along with the general goal of reducing trash and waste by consuming less and only bringing what you need, conservation officials are asking the public to be mindful of all the little pieces of refuse left behind that pile up — cans, bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, disposable utensils and other remnants of human activity.
Dog poop has become a particularly irksome problem in the backcountry. Even when owners take partial responsibility and pick up after their dogs, they often leave the waste bags along the trails and negate that initial effort.
Bill Jackson, a U.S. Forest Service ranger for the Dillon Ranger District, said the problem is particularly visible at trailheads, where visitors expecting to find trash cans just dump their waste bags and leave.
"It seems they think someone is just going to come by and pick up after them," he said. "We're the Forest Service, we don't have the funds for a waste management division. Maybe 20 years ago when we had double the staff, we could manage that better, but we've got a slimmed down staff here and we can't deal with that. People need to be responsible for themselves and their dogs."
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Lorch sees the same problem on Summit's trails and public spaces. "It's becoming an increasing issue. I don't know if they expect to come back and pick it up, but we're seeing more and more of these bags. To borrow a Front Range term, 'There is no poop fairy.'"
Negative interactions with wildlife are also of high concern. Trash and food waste inevitably attract local critters, especially bears. Jackson reminds visitors that the Dillon Ranger District has an active food storage order in place for several developed campsites and campgrounds around the White River National Forest, including the areas of Rock Creek, Peru Creek and Keystone Gulch. The order requires food and other items be stored securely in bear-resistant containers or lockers, and waste be properly disposed in a bear-resistant trash receptacle or taken out of the forest to a proper disposal site.
"We had to close down the area near Montezuma Road to camping because of bears, and that's directly related to long-term campers and all the trash that they were leaving behind." Jackson added that several long-term camping cleanups have cost the Forest Service thousands of dollars and are often the most difficult to manage. He hoped that more camping areas would not be subject to closure, but it might be inevitable if proper conservation ethics are not followed.
Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service both have education campaigns in place reminding visitors to the backcountry to follow proper waste disposal practices. Lorch said that reminders to "Leave No Trace" are posted all around the trails and backcountry, and most Open Space and Trails literature goes out with the same reminder. Jackson said he tries to keep reminding people of what happens if they don't pick up after themselves, and leaves them with a pretty simple message: "Clean up after yourself, because nobody is going to do it for you."