Stephanie Beall went to school to become an expert in recreation management. It turns out there are a lot of things that you don't learn in college that you learn when you get into the field. Such as how often people ignore the rules about where to use the bathroom.
Cleaning up impromptu piles of you-know-what is taking up a lot of Beall's time these days -- but she’s working to change that.
You don't have to get too far off the Wilson River Highway west of Portland before you encounter the Wilson River. There's no campground, but it's a popular spot with campers nonetheless. Beall, a recreation coordinator for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said these informal campsites are technically allowed, but you have to follow the rules, which she listed.
"Not clearing ground for your tents, not damaging the natural resource, camping at least a certain amount away from water, burying human waste.”
That last rule seems to be ignored. A lot.
‘This site was clean last week’
"We've entered what's kind of the bathroom area,” she said pointing to a soggy white mess on the ground.
"That's a wad of toilet paper,” Beall said. “And since I know this site was clean last week when I was here, it's maybe a week old at the most."
It's not just toilet paper littering the ground. Beall whips out a trash bag and gets to work.
Over the next few minutes Beall picked up shotgun shells, some tent pegs, a can opener, a rubber ball, and an empty oil can. And over the course of the year she has came across a lot more:
"Tires. Scrap metal and construction debris. It looks like folks replaced their home fence and brought it out. We had a kitchen remodel, so tile and cabinet. Somebody's patio table. Mattresses. We pick up all sorts of fishing garbage. We've had a couple of sofas this year.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry is trying to figure out how to rein in people who pollute or abuse state forest land. The agency wants to strengthen its ability to remove people who violate its rules.
Beall gets a lot of what she calls “public contact training” and said when she approaches people they often say they just didn’t know the rules.
“Folks who feel like the rules don’t apply to them or get confrontational, we just break off the contact, back away and let law enforcement know where they are,” Beall said.
She said sometimes law enforcement does cite people who refuse to comply but many people get away with it. So forestry staff are working on a rule proposal to the Board of Forestry. One way or another they’re hoping a rule change would actually change people’s behavior.
Plenty of hand sanitizer and some good advice
At this point it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that the first thing Beall does every time she gets back in her Department of Forestry pick-up truck is squirt a generous glob of hand sanitizer onto her palms.
She said she tries not to take it personally, this never-ending task of cleaning up after careless visitors.
"I get frustrated,” Beall said. “But for every person I clean up after there's usually a person who sees me cleaning up and offers to help. And that's what kind of balances it out."
And for the record, if you do need to answer the call of nature while you're surrounded by nature, Beall offered this advice.
"We ask that you are at least a hundred feet from a stream and that you dig what's called a cat hole,” she said. “Human waste won't break down if it's just on the surface of the ground. But if you scrape a six-inch hole for your human waste and toilet paper, and then cover it back up, the enzymes that are underground will start to break it down.”
Just a little something to bear in mind the next time you're in the woods.