The Memorial Day weekend crowds are going to be at an all-time high with Arizona’s population on the increase.

The traffic on the Beeline and 260 seems to increase by Thursday afternoon, with folks trying to find that precious camping spot.

Valley residents wanting to escape the heat and the Metropolitan Phoenix area will fill the local campgrounds and day-use areas to capacity.

One only has to visit Water Wheel, the second and third crossing on the Houston Mesa Road, or any of the campgrounds at one of the nearby lakes to recognize that the Rim area is a destination.

With the traffic passing through Payson, local restaurants, motels, and businesses benefit from the thousands of visitors who stop for a meal, last-minute camping needs, or an overnight stay.

The trout lakes and streams in the Rim Country are the destination of most of these weekend visitors with the anticipation of catching a fighting rainbow trout from any of the local waters.

Others come to visit their summer homes in the pine trees with the hope of cooler temperatures and the quiet solitude away from the desert Valley of the Sun.

If you once lived in the Valley and enjoy the outdoors, Friday would not come soon enough to make the short drive to your favorite fishing and camping spot.

With all the benefits of weekend visitors to Payson, there is one glaring problem that needs to be solved and that is the litter, which is left along the shoreline of our creeks and lakes, not just by visitors, but even some of our own residents.

Keeping our forests clean is a mindset that is developed at an early age and needs to be taught by all responsible outdoor enthusiasts.

The best way is by example. When adults pick up litter accompanied by children, a teaching moment occurs. A simple explanation after picking up litter will go a long ways toward forming future habits.

Since it is our national forest we should all take ownership whenever we are fishing or hiking in the woods. I would encourage everyone to have some kind of litterbag with them whenever they are hiking, fishing, or picnicking in the outdoors. A plastic sack within a daypack is the perfect place to store a discarded wrapper, aluminum can, or an empty plastic water bottle.

The time for these products to decompose if left on the ground varies from two months for paper, 100 years for aluminum cans, 450 years for plastic bottles, and glass does not decompose.

The Forest Service does not have the manpower or funding for garbage pickup around campgrounds or day-use areas. The posted sign “Pack it In, Pack it Out” says it all.

The personal responsibility of not littering is important, but the idea of leaving an area cleaner because you were there sets the standards even higher. When you are fishing a stream or lakeshore take time to pick up the discarded water bottle, PowerBait jar, aluminum can, or tangled monofilament line.

We have all seen the tied plastic garbage bag filled with campground litter left along the road or trail. It will certainly be ripped apart by animals or birds within a few hours or most definitely after nightfall. The only acceptable alternative is to take it to the nearest dumpster or deposit it in your garbage can at home.

Last week, I observed several trout entrails lying on the bottom of the gin clear East Verde River that have remained there for more than a week. If you catch a couple of trout and clean them, then throw the innards well up on the bank to be eaten by raccoons or birds. Leave the stream pristine for the next angler.

A lake or stream that is free of aluminum cans, empty plastic water bottles, wrappers, and PowerBait jars makes fishing or hiking so much more pleasant. This entire idea of a cleaner forest is a mindset change of personal responsibility for everyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Last week I saw a group of anglers at Woods Canyon Lake making a tour of the shoreline with garbage sacks in hand making the area a cleaner place because they were there. Many others took notice of their actions, which again is a teaching moment.

The next time you take that hike or go fishing at your favorite spot bring a litterbag and make a positive difference because you were there. We can make a difference one piece of litter at a time, and maybe someone is watching and they might get the idea of personal responsibility.

This weekend gets some exercise, take a hike in the Rim Country, and enjoy God’s creation.

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