Along the paved road toward Doll Baby Ranch, the forest looks pristine — but just off the roadway the beauty disappears.
The trash fouling the hillsides, swales and bushes includes empty shell casings, broken glass, shattered clay pigeons, shredded mattresses and pieces of circuit boards.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 20 volunteers joined with Forest Service personnel to clean up the mess left behind by shooters.
“Law enforcement came to us and said that the shooting areas looked like a dump,” said Rachael Hohl, a ranger from the recreation department of the Payson Ranger Station.
Rangers said shooters bring out targets like clay pigeons, paper targets, abandoned appliances, glass bottles, computers and furniture. They blast them full of holes, then leave the debris behind.
“Our laws allow for shooting,” said Hohl, “Just clean up after.”
This area of the forest attracts shooters because of the steep hillsides, bumps and ridges that allow for target practice.
Federal regulations allow for shooting on Forest Service land if these rules are followed:
• No shooting within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area.
• No shooting across or on a National Forest System road or a body of water or anywhere a person or property may sustain injury.
• No shooting into or inside a cave.
This was the fourth forest clean-up day Payson Ranger District rangers Hohl and Chelsea Muise have held in the past four months.
The volunteers who joined the clean-up have a passion for the forest and their community.
“I just hate trash in the forests,” said Cheri Wilson.
“We were taught to respect the land,” said Cherie Roberts. The two women along with their friend Judy Tolle originally hailed from the Midwest, which has a long tradition of caring for the land.
But the forest surrounding Doll Baby Ranch Road suffers all the ill effects of easy access for cars and ATVs. Tracks head off cross country from the road and revelers created improvised paths off the main road to areas where they drink, shoot up targets and leave a mess.
“We’re not trying to keep people from coming out here,” said Hohl, “We just don’t want them to dump trash.”
Federal regulations prohibit abandoning personal property or vehicles on Forest Service land. Violators may be cited and fined.
On Saturday, the volunteers not only picked up three pickup trucks loaded with black plastic trash bags, they also moved boulders to create gabion baskets to curtail use of roads made by users not included in the Tonto National Forest’s Travel Management Plan.
To create a gabion basket, volunteers pounded metal posts into the ground and wrapped them in sturdy wire fencing. The workers then dumped large rocks and boulders inside. Stiff wire wrapped around the metal poles made removing the rocks inside much more difficult.
“If we don’t curtail these user-made roads, the vegetation will continue to be trampled and destroyed,” said Hohl.
In the clean-up area, vast areas of dirt lay exposed because of tire damage. Vegetation cannot re-establish itself because the ground gets packed.
Boy Scout and Rim Country Middle School student Daymien Van Horn worked to collect rocks with Curt Longfellow, who brought his bulldozer along to help out.
Longfellow used to run Granite Plus Trucking. He volunteered, his time, a Kubota MX5100 bulldozer and his Ford F750 dump truck to help the effort.
“In my opinion, clean-ups inspire other people,” said Longfellow.
“It shows that the community does care.”