When the crap hits the trail
December 11, 2006
This town is full of shit. And I mean that literally. We are constantly reminded of just how full of it we are, especially when we spend time in our favorite places – ironically, places that were designed as escapes from all of life’s crap.The community’s coveted open space is littered with poop piles nearly every step of the way. It’s illogical that we spend millions of dollars to protect our environment only to have it shit upon. Smuggler is the worst – by spring we could be knee deep in it at the rate it’s going now.My last count on Smuggler tallied up six bags full of crap strewn along the snowbanks and several more exposed piles just lying there. As the snow layers build up and melt away, Smuggler will be up shit creek by March.Inconsiderate and irresponsible pet owners are the first to blame for the stinky mess we’re in. The city of Aspen and Pitkin County spend tens of thousands of dollars annually on bag dispensers at just about every trailhead and park. But lazy pet owners who don’t feel like carrying around a bag of crap leave it lay, and we find ourselves sidestepping to get around it all.It’s a messy issue for Keith Bergland, a ranger and naturalist for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, who is in charge of enforcing the rules on the 40 miles of trails stretching from the North Star Nature Preserve to the Crystal River Valley. He agrees that Smuggler is the crappiest place in the county. And despite the presence of a bag dispenser and trash receptacle at the base of the road, people continue to let their pets crap where we all play.Bergland estimates that roughly 100 pounds of poop a week is deposited in the trash can at the base of Smuggler. That’s probably about 50 percent of what our dogs dump – the rest is left for us to smell and scrape off our shoes. And as Bergland points out, no one is going to clean it up – the government isn’t doing it. Bergland doubts taxpayers would ever approve a budget that includes crap cleanup. However, some communities do budget for it, including my previous city of Santa Monica, Calif. City cleanup crews have shovels in the back of their trucks to pick up the human feces left by the homeless. After all, the affluent beach town has a reputation to maintain, and the government would hear from the business community if it let the city go to crap.Since Smuggler is a county road that’s not traveled much by vehicles, it’s rated as a low priority for maintenance, Bergland said. So the crap will continue to pile up unless pet owners take responsibility and carry their loads down the hill.”It’s equivalent of throwing a diaper on the road,” Bergland said. “These same people would never consider doing that, but that’s what a plastic bag of poop is.”Believe it or not, this issue has been studied extensively. It’s estimated that 90 percent of dogs will relieve themselves within the first quarter-mile of their hike, Bergland said. Why not put a trash can at the quarter-mile mark? Perhaps we should place trash cans every few hundred feet along the road to make it painfully easy for dog owners to pick it up and put the crap where it belongs.It’s a $100 fine to leave dog debris on a county trail – yet Bergland said he hasn’t issued a ticket since he began patrolling the area in 2002. He believes public outreach and education are the key to solving the problem, so when he sees a dog owner leave his pet’s stash, he offers a bag instead of a ticket. I think what’s needed here is a bit of tough love. There’s nothing like hitting the pocketbook for people to start listening up. Issue the tickets, and I guarantee people will think twice before crapping on our natural environment. Bergland said that because Smuggler is a road and not a trail, he can’t write tickets. I say change the county code and get the Sheriff’s Office up there. This is a public safety issue.It’s everyone’s right to enjoy the trails. The negative experience on Smuggler exposes the lack of pride we have for our natural resources. The next time you see someone leave a bag of crap, I suggest you pick it up and throw at the owner’s head. I know I will, because I’m sick of their shit.Sack may be full of crap but she hates stepping in it. E-mail her at email@example.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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