Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

This forum is used to share your experiences out on the trails.
User avatar
Sean Thomas
Posts: 1645
Joined: February 25th, 2012, 11:33 pm

Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by Sean Thomas » June 18th, 2018, 12:44 am

Hey guys, I know it's been a while since I've posted here, I hope everyone's doing well. I've been meaning to share about another pursuit I've been involved in for the last few years. In the search to connect a series of oddball mega routes and find quiet places to run my dogs over the years, I've come across an almost unbelievable amount of trash along the way. From illegal dumping and abandoned camps to teepee flowers and trashed TH's, it's been a sobering lesson in the darker side of visiting the outdoors:

Image28947207_10215224133093627_7289677698794591514_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

After loading up near highway 26 and an abandoned segment of the old POTB railroad:

Image28947161_10215225328363508_9128385589027515774_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I started teaming up with Solve a few years ago when Mr. Oregon Hiker himself Tom Kloster suggested reaching out to them to aid in a volunteer trash cleanup at Government Cove near Cascade Locks. A few weeks later I led a cleanup with over 22 volunteers(mostly Oregon Hikers!) and we hauled out almost 35 trash bags in about three hours. Solve identified the landowner as the Warm Springs Tribe, which the Wasco Indians who used to live along that stretch of the river are a part:

Image31313647196_073bea16ca_k by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Since the first cleanup on Black Friday in 2016 I've returned 4-5 times for smaller cleanups:

Image24130042_10214214423691523_3622072044375106360_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The dogs look helpful, but don't be fooled;)

Image24232189_10214214409411166_6607760117238119091_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

In this thread I'd like to brainstorm with the OH hive. How do we turn the tide on this issue, and how do we better keep harmful plastics and hazardous waste materials out of our rivers, oceans and wildlands? In an attempt to raise awareness and pull on your heart strings a little bit, the following is a story from one persons experience in one small part of one mountain range. Welcome to the Oregon Coast Range:

Imagethumbnail by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

The previous photo shows a group of Oregon Hikers and the Natural Resources Manager for Clatsop County during a cleanup on the slopes of Humbug Mountain. I found the dumpsite while hiking up to Humbug last fall. Upon reaching out to the landowner(technically you and I as it was just inside David Douglas County Park) the parks manager offered to help us gather and haul out the entire load with a county dump truck. The six of us picked up almost 3,000lbs of sopping wet trash in about 90 minutes:

Image22552424_10213839905288797_4414468551508175720_n (1) by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Imagethumbnail1 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

A common theme in the coast range and heavily roaded remote areas are illegal dumpsites. Most of them seem to be from small time contractors/household projects along with general household garbage. How can we help curb illegal dumping? What about free dump fees and increased awareness?

Just a half mile down the road a similar site sits near the head of a small branch of Humbug Creek. Unfortunately the site was on private timberland, and despite many phone calls and emails, the landowner wasn't willing to risk potential liability issues and denied a volunteer cleanup. This has happened with several sites on private land. Getting through the red tape is often the most difficult and time consuming part of the process:

Image26907788_10214693165659773_1557874507334055888_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Continuing down the hill toward Camp 18 and this was strewn along the banks of Humbug Creek. Swimming holes, popular day use sites, easy access stream sides and primitive campsites right next to water sources are imo the most important areas to watch. Once it ends up in a river or a sizable stream in the coast range, there's little hope of keeping it out of the ocean when lightweight, single use plastics and hazardous waste materials are concerned:

Image30261307_10215351755724113_8135084326854328320_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Further east near a high branch of Dairy Creek(a tributary of the Tualatin) another source of garbage rears it's ugly head. Illegal target shooting sites and the excessive littering that often goes along with them are a huge problem in the coast range. This was strewn across an entire hillside, but it only took about two hours to gather:

Image22308758_10213761257642655_7185171356775308465_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Image22365498_10213761257602654_3863303008497531248_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Not too far away a hidden stand of old Douglas-firs near Wolf Creek has been particularly mistreated:

Image33775338_10215749344103574_1775319908553326592_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

I dug out and piled up about 50 motor bike tires just a few hundred feet above the creek:

Image34161695_10215769259601449_1970657842968920064_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

A third unplanned trip to the grove revealed a toilet :?

ImageDSC_0424 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Further out near the coast and this sits near Oregon's largest tree, the Arcadia Cedar:

Image27073186_10214678769979890_7411696474684606205_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Just to the south in the woods at Hug Point State Park, illegal camping is often an issue:

Image22195439_10213704015691642_1720297034475665003_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Traveling up the Wilson River corridor a similar tale is told. Fern Rock Falls near Elk Creek has become a favorite selfie/bathroom stop on the way to Tillamook:

ImageDSC_0121 by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Image26815242_10214630014681038_2647128363929141786_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

More problem spots are the various swimming holes in the area. Gathered this near Jones Creek last year, a spot I've probably cleaned up a dozen times over the last half decade or so:

Image21430528_10213521886338522_8915947635668200154_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Oddly enough a member of the Reeher family(Reeher's camp) drove into the Jones Creek day use area while I was carrying up the trash bags. She asked me if I was dumping what I'd just gathered and when I explained my purpose, she was extremely thankful and offered to guide Joie and I throughout the old Reeher homestead and property. A big highlight was getting to stand in the middle of Lester Creek Falls:

Image22780545_10213884230396897_8927260630638051911_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Leaving the coast range for Detroit Lake and Sardine Creek and the story stays the same. After hiking up Dome Rock I dropped down to the lakeshore for an afternoon snack. The beach was lined with a plethora of pop bottles and beer cans:

Image22195548_10213724718049188_1588723660250153701_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

One of the more bothersome sights I came across was up at a primitive campsite next to Sardine Creek. Notice the tall Bud can that reads America across the front:

Image20690168_10213295348515218_7085832255837374196_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Outside the obvious, the bothersome part was the fact that an animal had rummaged through the trash, swallowing a bunch of plastic and defecating it out near the camp:

Image20728968_10213295348635221_3362424560072553805_o by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Before the Eagle Creek Fire, sometimes I'd visit the short stretch of Oneonta Creek between the old highway and 84 after a long hike. The amount of trash in what amounts to a few hundred yards of stream bank was always appalling. The mouth of Eagle Creek is largely the same, notice anything about the difference in brand names?

Image13892034_10209662525296908_3409003637096563284_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Unfortunately, we can't win the battle this way. With eight to ten million tons of plastic entering the world's oceans each year, we're facing a crisis on an almost unimaginable scale. I'm not sure what the answers are, and I don't care to point any fingers, but we sure have a lot of figuring out to do:

Image26906945_10214653327583846_6863241739974733704_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

On the upside, life's a team sport that's best played together. Even though this might not be the right platform for this post, I chose this forum because of all the brilliant minds that frequent here. Plus, I found all of this looking for places to satisfy my own selfish hiking desires, so I figure it counts as one big trip report;)

Image24294406_10214243009246144_51934953459485171_n by Sean Lawson, on Flickr

Disclaimer- Picking up trash and other waste materials can be extremely hazardous. Always wear gloves and be wary of needles, feces, blood, nails, sharp edges etc. Be aware of steep slippery terrain and the river and stream sides you might be working on.

User avatar
Posts: 3820
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: Vancouver

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by jeffstatt » June 18th, 2018, 5:25 am

What an eye-opener. Thanks sooo much for your efforts Sean! You need to get a link to this thread to the Oregonian and/or Columbian. That pile of tires is especially annoying (I've seen similar numbers of tires strewn around Larch Mt in SW Washington)

Posts: 1923
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by VanMarmot » June 18th, 2018, 5:42 am

Sean - Nice to see you back, I just wish it was with a happier story. But a THANK YOU (and to those who help you) for making an effort to stem the tide of trash washing into the woods.

It's a problem down here too. Target shooting sites for sure - not just the trash but the hillsides and forests filled with lead shot/bullets (which is ironic since the US military used to pay me to clean up lead in their old shooting ranges). Illegal camping too - but that seems to happen closer to town. There are probably still some meth labs and illegal grows out there. But often it's just careless litter (beer cans out the car window while driving a forest road; energy bar wrappers along the trail) or dumping household trash. I have some sympathy with the latter, as our local waste facility charges $18.50/yard for disposal and has a lot of restrictions on what it will take - it's just not affordable for some people, so they go to the end of a forest (or BLM) road and heave.

Old carpet in Ferris Gulch

Household junk below Buck Rock

But I reserve a special place in the infernal regions for irresponsible and illegal off-road vehicle use. :evil: It's not "trash" per se but it's still trashing the forest. I stress irresponsible and illegal because we have plenty of OHV users who obey the rules and do more good than harm. For example, the Cook and Green Trail, which connects the valley floor with the PCT, was rebuilt after the 2017 Abney Fire by the local motorcycle club. Nice trail. So it's the usual one AH SH*T wiping out a 1,000 good deeds.

This is an illegal motorcycle route (not a 4WD road) between two forest roads

Keep up the good work. Still, I wish you didn't have to do this and could just keep doing those amazingly long trail runs through the woods... :)

Posts: 2791
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: Portland, OR

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by justpeachy » June 18th, 2018, 6:24 am

Thanks for picking up all that trash, Sean. What a thankless, dirty, disgusting task. Most people would not be willing to do what you have been doing.

I wish I knew what the answer was to solve this. There are so many angles to this problem. I think it's partly a culture thing and it's also a humans-are-inherently-lazy thing. I think it's also a lack of resources for real enforcement (I imagine the cops don't have time to sift through garbage looking for clues and then tracking that person down, plus they have bigger fish to fry). Also, as Vanmarmot mentioned, paying the fees to leave one's trash at a legal dump is too expensive for some rural families. People don't care about trashing the woods and polluting the oceans when they are living paycheck to paycheck.

And now we're facing a problem of what to do with our recycling too! https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/clim ... apers.html

Posts: 168
Joined: July 30th, 2013, 8:33 am

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by johnspeth » June 18th, 2018, 7:17 am

As we all can see, the overwhelmingly common method of the trash arriving in the woods is on some sort of motorized vehicle. I hate to say it but the way to reduce the problem is to close the roads. Hardly practical for us hikers.

User avatar
Posts: 116
Joined: December 14th, 2011, 3:48 pm

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by DannyH » June 18th, 2018, 10:04 am

Thank you for all your hard work. As with most societal problems I believe that early education can make the difference. Which is one of the big reasons I'm a teacher, would you be okay with me sharing this post with my 5th grade class next fall? I teach in a small town in the coast range, so some of your pictures are literally next to my student's backyards.

Another thought I've had about this issue before. I have ZERO quantitative data to support my next statement, just my own limited observations. From 2003 - 2008 I ran logging equipment during the summer in Lane & Douglas Counties to pay for college. Douglas County (this may be different now) didn't require people to pay to pay to use the county dump, whereas Lane County (and most places?) do. Obviously this didn't solve the problem, but it seemed like there was less trash in the woods outside Roseburg and Sutherlin, than outside Eugene, and Springfield.

Again, thank you for your actions and hard work!
"It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

User avatar
Posts: 822
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by jessbee » June 18th, 2018, 10:21 am

Thank you so much Sean for doing the work and posting this summary. It's a big problem and I don't quite understand what would compel people to behave this way. Surely if you can afford to buy it, you can afford to dispose of it.

The root cause seems to be societal: we have too much crap. We buy it, we use it once, we chuck it. Changing that mentality is going to be a big job.

Interestingly I just saw this article from the Bend Source: https://m.bendsource.com/bend/next-leve ... id=6260907

They're linking the local areas that are notoriously illegal trash dumps with shooters. I am sure that it's a certain percentage of shooters who trash the forest but they sure make everyone look bad :/

As for solutions? If we keep picking up people's trash they're going to keep dumping it. So how do we as a commiunity change behavior? I haven't got a clue.
Will break trail for beer.

Blog and photos

User avatar
Posts: 643
Joined: June 2nd, 2013, 1:25 pm
Location: Vancouver, WA

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by K.Wagner » June 18th, 2018, 12:05 pm


All I can say is Thanks So Much! I don't get down to Oregon to recreate very much (just to work....). I don't see quite that much here in the GPNF, but it is certainly bad in places.

I don't have any answers. I think it is a symptom of the society, and like somebody said: "having too much crap".

On the bright side, this last Saturday I hiked the Loowit Trail from June Lake to Ape Canyon. The June Lake parking area was clean. There were a couple of incidental bits on the trail up to the lake. I did not see any human debris on the entire Loowit trail. I know that the people associated with the dumping you are finding and the trail users are very different sorts. But still, it was so nice to walk and not have to get angry at some inconsiderate so & so......

Thanks again for taking your time to clean up other's messes. I know that is not your preference of how to spend your time outdoors.
There is no shortcut to anyplace worth going to.

PM me about the soon to be released:
Skamania 231
"How to really get off the beaten path in Skamania County"

User avatar
Posts: 1035
Joined: October 22nd, 2013, 11:35 am
Location: Vancouver, WA

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by sprengers4jc » June 18th, 2018, 12:58 pm

Sean, thanks for all you do to bring awareness to this issue!

I think that free dump days would be a great place to start, along with massive increases in fines for illegal dumping. When my friend tells me that it will cost him $40 to simply dispose of a cathode ray television, it's not surprising that these things end up in the woods somewhere, seeping toxins into the wetlands.

But this is also clearly an education issue. The German concept of Kehrwoche is one that we could use here in the US to bring awareness to each individual's part and pride in keeping things clean. It seems many see no harm in what they are doing when they dump trash. How do we make them see, and more importantly, how do we make them care, and what kind of campaign can reach all groups of end users? FWIW, I have a friend in the Lobos Motorcycle Club who could be an "in" for the dirtbiking community; the folks who run Trash No Land are target shooters who organize cleanups for illegal shooting sites (I think Wayne knows these folks), and of course our friends in the hiking community can spread the word. But, many of the people doing the dumping are not necessarily among these groups. And it doesn't help when legitimate groups like Travel Oregon contribute to the problem by hiding glass ornaments and other gimmicks in the woods (https://bit.ly/2MEWNDo).

So what we are really talking about here is changing culture: getting people to use less overall, and making people care enough about their planet to not trash it (while also giving them more incentive to not do so). It's a tall order, and there are no easy answers. :(
'We travel not to escape life but for life to not escape us.'

Posts: 1195
Joined: November 25th, 2015, 11:06 am
Location: Troutdale

Re: Tales of Trouble and Trash in the Oregon Woods

Post by Webfoot » June 18th, 2018, 3:00 pm

Thank you for your work on this!

Since you asked, I can't see a reasonable way to do much about the casual dropping of trash (e.g. beer cans) by people who just don't care, other than to try to instill some sense of pride of the commons. However I think that that kind of trash, while significant, is probably much less damaging than the dumping of general waste, which might include chemicals and poisons of many kinds whether expressly (e.g. dumping old oil) or otherwise. I use to wonder what the motivation for such disgraceful behavior might be, but since then I've seen ridiculous fees for the disposal of simple items and I no longer find it surprising, though certainly not acceptable. I think the true societal cost of not providing free disposal is ultimately greater than that of providing it, and perhaps the only realistic way forward in these areas.

Post Reply