Keeping Forest Clean Helps Health Of Environment

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Jeremy Plain doesn't just work in the forest, he invests his time, sweat and muscle in it. So it's a real killjoy for him to see the forest roads around Payson littered with junk.

"I want my kids to be able to grow up and enjoy the forest and not have to look at a landfill," Plain said as he tossed old lumber out of a ravine along Forest Road 409 last Tuesday morning.

The work may not be the firefighting he signed up for, but he understands that it all comes back to keeping the forest, and his town, in good shape.

Plain, along with 25 other firefighters, volunteers and U.S. Forest Service staff, took part in a forest cleanup day Tuesday, July 26.

Three groups fanned out around Payson to Forest Roads 199 (Shoo Fly Road, off of Houston Mesa Road), 209 (Crackerjack Road, a couple of miles north of Payson) and 409 (Doll Baby Ranch Road, at the end of Main Street), to remove the garbage that has been piling up in the surrounding forests.

In all, the Forest Service pulled out two dump truck loads, a roll-away dumpster and eight pickup truck loads of "everything from couches to underwear," said Kurt Longfellow, who volunteered his dump truck for the effort.

The cleanup day has become an annual effort -- sometimes biannual depending on how bad it is. But illegal dumping, like graffiti, is a problem that's tough to keep up with.

The trouble is that it only takes one person to start a new dump site, Plain said, and it snowballs from there. Refrigerators, bunk bed frames, drywall scraps, toilets, a camp trailer -- almost anything you can imagine gets dumped on public land.

Even so, some people have taken it upon themselves to pick up the trash.

Kerry Randall, a self-described "camping fool," has been working to clean up the woods since he moved to town in February, mostly because the illegal dumping "disgusts me."

Randall said he likes fishing and camping as much as the next guy, but goes out of his way to pick up after himself because the untouched beauty of the forest is what draws him there in the first place.

"I get infuriated," he said. "You just get done (picking up after people) and then six months later (the trash is back)."

Walt Thole, a recreation officer with the Payson Ranger District, chalks it up to the "sleazeball factor," or people who don't care and are too lazy to take their trash to a landfill. One guy wouldn't even move his a camp trailer he left in the woods after being cited for abandoning it there, Thole said.

Thole, who coordinated the cleanup, said he thought stiffer enforcement, like requiring anyone who gets caught dumping to go before the judge, might help reduce the build-up. For now, all he can do is pick up what others leave behind.

"I think (the cleanup effort) was very successful, primarily because we met our objectives of cleaning up those three areas that are really bad," Thole said.

But because it's a special project, resources and people have to be diverted from their normal duties.

Thole said taking time out to clean the forest means he can't provide the same service to area visitors, and the firefighters could be delayed in responding to a call.

Also, it probably costs about $5,000 in salaries for the day for Forest Service staff to do something other than what they're trained for, he said.

"So you can see the cost to the public in general is pretty high," Thole said. "Bottom line is we need more help from people to report illegal dumping."

For information on forest cleanup efforts or to volunteer, contact Thole at the Payson Ranger Station at (928) 474-7900. The next cleanup will be in the Round Valley area.

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