Forest rangers clean up big mess left by campers

U.S. Forest Service rangers clean up a mess left behind at a camp in the Gifford Pinchott National Forest in November 2017. (Courtesy of Chelsea Muise)

MOUNT ST. HELENS, Wash. (KOIN) — Empty bottles, cookware, clothes, coolers, food containers, toys … just a few of the items left behind in tents at a camp in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that had to be cleaned up by members of the U.S. Forest Service.

Officials shared photos of the mess with KOIN 6 News, saying it’s an extreme example, but a recurring issue in the national forest and Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service

“I was shocked, however, not surprised,” monument manager Tedd Huffman said. “We’ve seen some examples that like in the past, we’ve seen RVs pushed out of the hills before and had to actually piece them out of the slopes and rivers.”

The national forest is a popular destination for its natural beauty, target practice and hiking but also for it’s disperse camping policy. That means, in many parts of the forest, you can camp for free for up to 14 days.

“The monument is open to disperse camping, which means you’re not in a developed campground where there’s campfire ring, picnic tables — all that stuff,” recreation program manager Chelsea Muise said. “You can just come out to the monument or the Gifford Pinchot and camp.”

The forest service believes it’s because camping is free that they’re seeing a rise in popularity and more trash left behind.

“In certain respects, I don’t think people are aware of the ‘Pack it in, pack it out policy,'” Muise said.

That policy is exactly what it sounds like — if you bring something into the forest, you should take it with you when you leave. In other words, “leave no trace.”

Officials hope by showing the mess, more campers will realize the great need to clean up after themselves, especially when it comes to food waste, which can attract wildlife.

“We aren’t the Forest Service Trash Patrol Service, we are the Forest Service,” Muise said. “That’s really taking up forest ranger’s time that they could be spending on other projects…”

People caught leaving trash in national forest land face fines up to $10,000 and/or prison sentences up to 6 months.

If you have any information about who may have left behind the camp in the photos, contact the monument headquarters at 360.891.5000. Anyone interested in joining volunteers who clean up trash in the forest should contact Community Engagement Specialist Amy Wilson at 360.449.7831 or awilson@fs.fed.us or the monument headquarters.