Unlike the previous forest cleanup days that fizzled due to poor weather, Saturday’s cleanup off Houston Mesa Road drew 32 sunny volunteers.
Members of Payson Packers, Payson Area Single Track Association and Payson Area Trails System pitched in along with concerned citizens to clean up along popular hiking and ATV areas.
“We’re so excited at the turnout,” said Rachael Hohl and Chelsea Muise, rangers from the Payson Forest Service office, who organized the event.
The rangers handed out gloves, water bottles and trash pickers before splitting the volunteers into two groups. One headed to the intersection of Houston Mesa Road and Highway 87, the other drove to the Shoofly Ruins trailhead.
Barbara Clark and Lori Horn headed for the 87/Houston Mesa intersection.
Horn, a former Phoenix resident and now Payson local, said she enjoys going to the lakes and rivers in the area, but hates seeing all the trash left behind by visitors.
“I’ve seen ducks with hooks in their necks,” she said. “Most people up here are conscientious, but the city folk don’t seem to care as much. I’m out here to give back to my community.”
Clark, fresh off a camping trip to Roosevelt Lake, heard about the event and decided to help. She couldn’t believe the amount of liquor bottles littering the bushes.
Neither could Dusty Miller, leader of the Payson Packers.
As Miller searched the vegetation, he found dozens of empty wine bottles.
From the looks of things, the favorite was Gallo white, he said.
Muise said people often throw their bottles out before hitting the highway to avoid being arrested for an open container.
Liquor containers did not concern Miller as much as other types of trash.
“The scariest thing is all the cigarette butts by the side of the road,” he said. “And look here — lots of dead grass — a real fire hazard.”
At Shoofly Ruins, while the volume of trash was similar to Houston Mesa, the type was different, volunteers noted.
Muise said that was typical with the “high rollers” near town and the beer drinkers in the higher elevations.
Volunteer Randy Cockrell found cigarette butts and beer bottles amongst the waste.
“I’m finding a lot of those stickers the road crews use before they repaint the lines on the road. I guess the glue wears out,” he said. “People who put up memorials should know that the plastic flowers get all over the place, too.”
As the cleanup crews headed into the woods, someone called for help.
A volunteer had found a dumpsite with burned up mattresses, old pipes and a couch. All was picked up and hauled away.
Sadly, almost every dirt road in the forest has a dump like this, Hohl said.
“One time I found an oven stove range,” she said.
If anyone sees dumping going on, take down the license plate and report it to the Payson Ranger District, Hohl said.
Dumping can carry a six-month jail sentence and thousands of dollars in fines.
By noon Saturday, the weary trash pickers made their way back to the entrance of the Houston Mesa Campground.
Rangers drove four, half-ton pickup trucks filled with bags and bunches of trash back to the station. Examining the haul, one volunteer said it made her happy, but sad.
Many said they would come back and volunteer during the next cleanup day, the second weekend in February.
For more information on forest cleanup, call Muise or Hohl at (928) 474-7900.