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Volunteers needed for cleanup after record visitation in Sawtooth NRA

Record high usage brings trash, damage

The Sawtooth National Forest on July 4. Record-high visitation this summer has meant massive amounts of trash and waste in the Sawtooth Recreation Area and volunteers are needed to help with cleanup. 

KETCHUM — Outdoor recreation exploded this summer.

The pandemic meant that many Americans had more free time on their hands. Plus, social distancing requirements pushed more people outside than usual.

Extremely high use of public lands this year created enormous amounts of trash and waste, and generally brought massive wear and tear to beloved recreation areas.

Just about every national park and national forest around the U.S. is experiencing the same problem, including the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which includes the Sawtooth, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders wildernesses.

To help clean up the Sawtooth NRA, the National Forest Foundation, Sawtooth Society, Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association and Idaho Conservation League are putting out a call for volunteers. Anyone who wants to help will get to pick how and where they pitch in. Each group’s cleanup effort is self-guided. You can volunteer anytime between now and Oct. 4.

“We think it’s absolutely necessary this year,” National Forest Foundation Northern Rockies Program Manager Dani Southard said.

Southard explained there are a handful of reasons the Sawtooth NRA needs all the clean up help it can get.

For one, there’s a ton of trash. There’s a lot of new trash in the wildernesses, but even more trash is consolidated around relatively accessible lakes and rivers.

There are also areas that have been physically beaten up. Because the forests were so crowded, people parked their vehicles outside of designated areas, and established new campsites that shouldn’t have been started. Those new campsites have to be covered up. On top of that, there have been a ton of new campfire sites created. U.S. Forest Service Sawtooth NRA Recreation Program Manager Susan James said there were 300 unattended campfires in 2020, up from just 27 last year.

Then, there is a far more gross problem. People haven’t been handling their own waste respectfully.

When you camp in the outdoors, you have to properly bury your waste. A lot of Sawtooth NRA visitors haven’t been doing that this year. James said one of her USFS rangers has buried more than 50 piles of poop in the backcountry.

To participate, visit https://forms.gle/FBz7LbkVye88uRVY6 to select a front-country or backcountry project and receive instructions on how to pick up supplies and what to do.

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