Heaps of trash evidence of increased outdoor recreation in the region


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.

A U.S. Forest Service ranger helps pick up trash in an unimproved camping area in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest
A U.S. Forest Service ranger helps pick up trash in an unimproved camping area in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest

“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.

One of several truckloads of garbage pulled out of camping spots near the Skate Creek Recreation area on Sept. 19. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot Trash Force
One of several truckloads of garbage pulled out of camping spots near the Skate Creek Recreation area on Sept. 19. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot Trash Force

“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.

Increased usage of unimproved camping areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left behind a mountain of trash. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot Trash Force
Increased usage of unimproved camping areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left behind a mountain of trash. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot Trash Force

“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.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are urging people to Pick up the Pinchot this week, with a chance to earn prizes. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest
The U.S. Forest Service and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are urging people to Pick up the Pinchot this week, with a chance to earn prizes. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest

“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.”

Trash left behind at unimproved camping areas in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest creates hazardous conditions for area wildlife. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Trash left behind at unimproved camping areas in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest creates hazardous conditions for area wildlife. Photo courtesy Gifford Pinchot National Forest

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.r6_gp_forest@usda.gov.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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