Pieces of broken glass, plastic bottles, car tires and the list goes on and on. A large number of objects that do not belong in nature are found on a regular basis in different sites at National Park Service Amistad National Recreation Area.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down commercial and industrial activities throughout the state, the country and worldwide, but out here the number of visitors remains steady. As a matter of fact, park officials say parking areas at boat ramps have been packed, especially during the weekends.
The national park shut down completely on March 25, but it has been easing restrictions and gradually re-opening to visitors.
As of this week, the park’s hiking trails and boat ramps are open. Popular spots are closed, but a trail of ground fires, trash and debris left behind by visitors tells a different story.
Despite the park’s long-standing policy of not allowing glass bottles, plenty of glass is picked up on a regular basis by park employees. The same is true with ground fires, they are not allowed but it is not uncommon for park staff to find black rings on the ground.
The boat ramps have become the most popular sites since the coronavirus pandemic caused the closure of some areas and services, these boat ramps include Diablo East, Rough Canyon, Box Canyon, and Southwinds Marina, which have been packed, Park Superintendent Chris Ryan said.
“Persons have been finding other ways to get to the water. It has been busy on the lake below the Highway 90 West bridge, below the old concession building at Diablo East, and at Southwinds,” he said.
Maintenance employees, normally tasked with picking up the trash from the bins on a regular basis, have been busy, and employees from areas currently closed have been joining trash pickups on Mondays at the most popular areas.
“Maintenance employees empty out trash bins on a daily basis, and all available employees participate in Monday trash pickups,” Ryan said.
Monday afternoon the area below Highway 90 West offers a great shelter for visitors, the clear water, nice weather, the bridge provides a large shaded area, and some families – dog included – are here and there fishing, or at least casting from the banks.
A contrasting sight is not far away from them, where park employees are painstakingly removing pieces of glass, aluminum cans, car tires and not one but two folding canopies, one from the banks and the other one from the lake, where it is barely visible anchored in the muddy bottom of water 5-foot-deep.
The debris picked up includes plastic bags, plastic bottles and construction materials. Pieces of rusty sheet metal are carefully dragged out of the site and taken by boat to be properly disposed of.
During each one of these Monday trash pickups park employees are filling up between 120 and 150 bags of trash, Park Superintendent Chris Ryan said.
“These are the 55 gallon trash bags. There has been much more trash since the coronavirus closure,” he said.
Amistad National Recreation Area has more than 100 trash bins installed in the park, the bins are animal-proof to prevent wildlife from spilling the trash and from consuming it. However the trash bins are not always full when park staff goes out to empty them. Most of the trash is not even in the trash cans, Ryan said.
“It is in the brush, trees, and sometimes on the ground right next to a trash can,” he said.
“The most damaging effects of trash in the national park are that animals sometimes mistake trash for food. It is unhealthy for fish and wildlife and can affect their digestive systems. We want to keep wildlife wild and not have them habituated to human food or trash,” he said.
Ryan said the trash is not only a hazard for wildlife, but it also looks unsightly.
“Park staff regularly pick up cans, broken glass bottles, dirty diapers, food wrappers, etc. People do not throw trash in their front yard, neither should they throw it on the ground in their national park which belongs to the American people.
“Trash costs cash. It costs taxpayers money to have employees pick up trash. It also pulls employees away from other important projects, such as work to get facilities ready for re-opening of other areas,” he said.
Finally, the park superintendent said park staff need the help of visitors to tackle the trash problem.
“We encourage persons that whatever they pack in, to pack it out. It is one of the leave no trace principles. We would all benefit from this – the visitors, the employees, and the wildlife,” he said.