The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is offering prizes to people who help clean up campground areas this week
Anyone who spent time camping this Summer is well aware that the great outdoors was a little extra busy.
You could see if from empty shelves at sporting goods stores, to full parking lots at most of the area’s recreation sites.
With improved campgrounds largely already full, many people resorted to the hundreds of dispersed camping areas throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Department of Natural Resources lands.
“It has been a very, very busy year,” says Elisabeth Dare, a resource assistant with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “We say that every year, but this year it was quite different in regards to the amount of use that our forest got, as well as other forests in the region.”
And, it turns out, those crowds of campers left plenty of evidence behind.
Dare went out with a volunteer group known as the Gifford Pinchot Trash Force on Sept. 19, and was stunned by what they hauled out of just an area along the Skate Creek trail near Packwood, Washington.
“People tend to leave a lot of, like, micro trash, small stuff. Food wrappers, cans, things like that,” says Dare. “But I saw a lot of bigger items out there that really surprised me.”
That included whole tents, plenty of water floatation devices, life jackets, and more.
In the span of an afternoon, 30 volunteers hauled out more than 90 tires, a huge trailer full of trash, along with several truck loads more.
“It’s a little shocking that people think that it’s okay to leave that stuff behind,” says Dare. “But it is happening, and more so this year than we’ve seen previously.”
Others have noticed a similar trend. Plenty of people commented on a recent post by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Facebook page, showing some of the garbage, lamenting the abuse of the area’s pristine natural forests.
But, Dare says, it may not be that people are just careless.
“Something that we’ve kind of collectively noticed as an agency is that we’re also seeing an uptick in some of the first-time recreators,” she says, “people who just haven’t really spent a lot of time in the outdoors, or are visiting for the first time because of the lack of other things to do.”
Those people, she says, may simply be unaware that unimproved dispersed camping sites lack amenities such as restrooms, trash cans, and dumpsters.
“So that’s the audience that we really need to reach, because they don’t have, necessarily, that kind of environmental education,” says Dare. “And we think that that’s probably a big part of what’s going on this year.”
Pick up trash, post pics, win prizes
In a normal year, National Public Lands Day would bring hundreds of volunteers out in late September to help clean up dispersed camping areas.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Forest Service is doing things a little differently this year with National Public Lands Week.
Through Friday, Oct. 3, you’re invited to grab some friends and some trash bags, and head out into your local forest to clean up after others.
“We’re kind of lucky because the weather is looking absolutely beautiful for a few days,” says Dare. “So we’re encouraging people that, as they’re going out on their fall hike and while they’re exploring, to bring a trash bag from home, and pick up whatever area that you’re hiking in, be it for 20 minutes, or for five hours.”
This being the Internet age, there is a social media component to the event this year, and a chance to win some prizes.
Take a photo of what you find, and post it to Twitter or Facebook with the either the hashtag #PickUpThePinchot or #PublicLands2020, and you could win one of three prizes.
“The first prize we’re giving out is for the most garbage collected,” says Dare. “The second is for the most unusual find.”
The third prize is for the best team spirit, though they are urging people to limit their group to no more than 10, and try to keep COVID-19 safety measures in mind.
Which brings us to the fourth prize, which is new for this year: the safest teamwork effort.
If you’re not subscribed to social media, you can submit your photo to SM.FS.firstname.lastname@example.org.