Heavy snowfall has created perfect conditions to hit the slopes or enjoy a snowball fight in the Sierra Nevada.
That’s meant a heavy influx of visitors ready to make the most of the winter wonderland, but also created problems including the trash they leave behind.
For Dan Gunn, Sierra National Forest winter recreation manager, it is the busiest season he has seen in the central Sierra Nevada. Thousands have made the drive to enjoy snow parks and trails, especially over the Christmas, New Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. holidays.
“I’ve never seen it like that before,” he said, “and I think it’s great that people want to get up into the forest and enjoy the public lands.”
But then there is the trash and traffic, among the issues left to be untangled by the Forest Service and agency partners such as the California Highway Patrol, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Caltrans and SoCal Edison.
Trashy leftovers are the most visible.
Garbage cans are often provided for convenience, but U.S. national forests also emphasize the Pack it In, Pack it Out program that encourages visitors to take their trash with them for disposal.
Beer cans, fast-food cups, Pop-Tart wrappers and more are being discarded in parking lots and play areas. Broken sleds are abundant, many left at the bottom of the hill where they had their last ride.
Bags of garbage are stacked alongside restrooms, even where a sign reading “Pack it in. Pack it out” hangs two feet above. That’s the go-to slogan when it comes to balancing enjoyment of the outdoors with some post-fun personal accountability.
Numerous signs at each location – such as the five in clear view from the parking lot at Coyote Sno-Park – haven’t stopped the litterbugs.
Sierra National Forest has three full-time staffers – Gunn and two others – that maintain the snow parks, but that’s only supposed to be about 15 percent to 20 percent of their normal duties. That has changed. Cleanup that used to take less than an hour at each site can now take a few.
It’s not just bags of trash, it’s truckloads of trash.
Sierra National Forest winter recreation manager Dan Gunn, on the garbage left behind by visitors at the snow parks
“It’s not just bags of trash,” Gunn said, “it’s truckloads of trash.”
The rangers aren’t complaining about garbage pickup being part of their job – they know it’s their responsibility to keep areas clean, safe and open for the public. Instead, they simply want to raise awareness of the need to respect public land.
“The message I want to put it out is that it is our public land,” Gunn said. “It’s everybody’s, so let’s take care of that.”
As for traffic, the lower snow parks at Balsam Meadows and Tamarack fill up quickly, leaving late arrivals to park outside the lots and along Highway 168 – a potentially dangerous move for everyone.
Added congestion has resulted in traffic jams at the bottom of the four-lane highway, particularly after 4 p.m. when China Peak Mountain Resort closes and the rush back to the Valley floor begins. Some motorists have seen waits as long as two hours at the stop sign-controlled intersection of the highway and Lodge Road.
A little patience can go a long way, Gunn advised.
“Everybody else on the road is in the same situation,” he said. “I’d encourage drivers, that when they’re in their car, to take it down a notch. Having a relaxed attitude and the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes would make (the roads) safer.”
Check before you go
Sierra National Forest Headquarters
1600 Tollhouse Road, Clovis
Bass Lake Ranger District
57003 Road 225, North Fork
High Sierra Ranger District
29688 Auberry Road, Prather
Caltrans Highway Information Network: 800-427-7623
Yosemite National Park: 209-372-0200 (press 1, 1)
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: 559-565-3341 (press 1, 1)
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