It’s an annual rite of spring that anyone who cares about the Bitterroot National Forest could go without.
On Friday morning, a crew from the Darby Ranger Station and a few local volunteers worked to clean up someone else’s trash from a camping site near the Camas Lake trailhead.
It was no small task.
Besides a pile of cans and other garbage including what appeared to be a methamphetamine pipe, all of it overflowing from a fire ring, the crew spent several hours maneuvering a trashed pickup camper filled with even more garbage onto a flatbed trailer.
“When there is so much work that needs to be accomplished this time of year, including clearing trails and getting camping areas ready for the season, it’s frustrating to have to spend time doing this,” said Bitterroot Forest spokesman Tod McKay. “It’s something that happens every spring once we and others have a chance to get back into different areas. There’s always someone’s trash waiting there to be picked up.”
In this case, the abandoned pickup camper was literally falling apart while the crew worked to raise it up high enough to get it onto the trailer.
Darby District Ranger Eric Winthers said it appeared that someone had camped at the site for some time before abandoning the camper and leaving their trash behind for others to clean up.
“We’re searching for some kind of ownership papers would help us find out who did this,” Winthers said.
If they’re successful, the perpetrators could be charged and fined up to $5,000 or imprisoned for up to six months or both. People who choose to dump their trash on national forest lands can also be required to pay the costs for cleaning up the site.
“This is a lot of extra work that we shouldn’t have to be doing,” Winthers said. “But it’s also something that we see all too often. The cost of dumping garbage in Ravalli County is fairly expensive so people apparently just decide to dump it out in the woods.”
Winthers said the Forest Service could use some help from the public to help put a stop to it.
“If people see someone dumping on the National Forest, it would be great if they could let us know,” Winthers said. “If they can get a description of the vehicle and license plate numbers, that would be helpful.”
The Skalkaho and Rye Creek roads are two areas where dumping has been a long-term problem.
Every year, Winthers said Bitterroot Forest employees end up spending thousands of hours cleaning up after people who don’t respect the National Forest.
“Today we have an engine crew from Darby doing this work,” he said. “There are a lot of different things that they could be doing instead. Some of those things may not get done because we have to spend our time here doing this.”