Campsites trashed

The site looks as if someone upended a couple of big dumpsters and then hauled them away, leaving only the trash. If only it was a random act

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The site looks as if someone upended a couple of big dumpsters and then hauled them away, leaving only the trash.

If only it was a random act.

But trashing wilderness campsites has become all too common on summer weekends in the West Country, where thousands of people converge to enjoy free camping, unfettered by the fees and restrictions of regular campgrounds, says Curtis Thomas, who works in the area.

A foreman at the Husky Ram River gas plant, Thomas is among the many thousands of people who like to spend their weekends out in the wilderness along the eastern slopes, where people are allowed to chose a site and camp for as long as they wish.

“Everybody loves to random camp, you know,” said Thomas.

It’s quiet and, except on the long weekends, you don’t have neighbouring campers right on your doorstep.

“On the long weekends here, it’s a convoy eight hours long of campers and quads and whatnot, heading out into the West Country. That’s the worst time, is the long weekends, because we have such an influx on the long weekends.”

The problem is, a small percentage of those people do not chose to leave the sites they way they found them, he said.

“It’s just the few bad apples in every carton that wreck it for everybody.”

Whether they assume that someone else will clean up after them or whether they simply don’t care, that particular group of people leaves a horrible mess that creates hazards for wildlife and headaches for other humans.

“The biggest risk is that some animals will eat the garbage,” said Thomas.

Unable to discriminate between food and wrappers, bears eat everything, and then their stomachs and intestines become full of plastic and foil with no room for food and they starve to death, he said.

“Other than that, it’s just an ungodly, unsightly mess. The whole thing is total lack of respect for the wilderness you’re going out to enjoy. It’s not a self-cleaning system out there.”

A member of Thomas’s crew found one such site near the junction of Hwy 752 and the Forestry Trunk road while out on a job near the plant.

“He was totally disgusted. He went out and did his job and came back, grabbed a bunch of large garbage bags, he filled three of them out there. An operator who was on the site went out and helped him clean up out there.”

But Thomas doesn’t want people to be able to assume that there will always be someone around to pick up after them.

Provincial workers do what they can as do campers and workers who have the time and resources. But many of the sites are simply left to nature, and that’s just not acceptable, he said.

There are still hundreds of sites out there that are still a mess, said Thomas.

Alongside the ugliness and hazards, campers and oilfield workers do not head into the backcountry to become garbage collectors, he said.

Sustainable Resource Development has reported some success with large garbage bins, sponsored for oilfield and pipeline companies working in the area, that are left out in four key areas during the long weekends.

Thomas plans to approach his business unit to see if they can provide additional bins top encourage more people to clean up their camps.

Random camping is a good system if people use it properly, he said.

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