When Forest Service personnel pulled off Granite Dells Road Thursday morning and walked into the brush, what they saw looked like a bomb had torn a building apart and left its pieces scattered across the forest floor.
Strewn in front of them were piles of old tires, a refrigerator and other appliances, part of an old camper shell, window screens, mattresses, shoes, boots, clothing and car batteries.
"It's really disgusting," said Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts. "Just look at the stuff here. Why anyone would do this, I can only guess.
"It's closer than the landfill. They don't want to spend the money, or they're lazy. Sometimes you just wish you could discover who these people are and publish their pictures in the newspaper."
On Thursday morning, 25 workers broke into groups and set out to remove abandoned materials from the forests around Payson.
Workers included Forest Service staff, the district ranger, Helitack and Hot Shot crewmembers, and volunteers like Kurt Longfellow, who provided a much-needed dump truck for the effort.
"Dumping in our forests has been a long-term problem, and the problem is increasing," Roberts said.
Beyond ruining the natural beauty of the forest, the abandoned materials increase fuels for wildfires.
"This little spot we cover here (just south of Monument Peak) averages one fire a year," said Bob Rick, Forest Service engine captain. "It's a popular party site for teenagers."
Along with the area south of Monument Peak, crews removed trash from sites near Round Valley, Bradshaw Road in Pine, and the shooting range south of Payson by Oxbow Hill.
"From the four sites, we pulled about 40 tons of trash and junk out of our forests," Roberts said.
Wilderness Ranger Craig Eckstein said one of the best weapons against forest dumping is an aware public.
"If anyone sees anything suspicious going on in the forest, don't confront them, but try to get a license plate number or a description of the vehicle. Don't try to be a hero," he said.
District Recreation Officer Walt Thole said he thought stiffer enforcement, like requiring anyone who gets caught dumping to go before a judge, might also help. Until then, all he can do is pick up what others leave behind -- something that ultimately takes time and resources away from their regular duties.
"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.
It's a problem that only gets worse as seasonal campers and visitors head to the Rim Country.
"In the summer, we get about one abandoned vehicle a week in the forest," Eckstein said. "Then we have to get them out fast, because once they are vandalized it's worse."
Perhaps what is most frustrating for these work crews is the seemingly never-ending cycle of disregard and disrespect for the public lands.
"In August, we pulled tons of materials off this same site," Roberts said. "I wish people would just execute some responsibility."
As the crews packed up their tools to leave, Payson Forester James Mercer paused and looked back over his shoulder at the now clean forest site.
"It feels kind of futile," he said. "It's not something that's going to last. It can feel hopeless."
Call (928) 474-7900 to report acts of dumping or other illegal activities within the Payson District.