By Casey Cordeiro
As more and more people flock to the dunes, deserts, mountains, and trails, there is becoming an increasingly apparent problem – people aren’t picking up their trash!
This is especially prevalent since the advent of the multiple passenger UTV. And, frankly, I’m an advocate for UTVs, so please don’t think that this is a dig on any UTV enthusiast. However, we need to realize that we are part of the problem. The UTV has allowed many more off-road enthusiasts to load up their family and take everyone riding on more of a budget than ever before. That is a wonderful thing, but not every rider is educated on proper trail etiquette, unfortunately.
We could go on an on about proper trail etiquette by highlighting things like the group ride number system (putting up your fingers to signal to oncoming drivers how many are in your group), proper trail driving techniques, campsite etiquette, and much more. But, for this article, we’re going to focus on one of the things that is paralyzing some of our off-road areas – TRASH.
Yes, trash is a big concern! Not only does trash litter our pristine riding areas with muck that isn’t needed out there, but leaving trash also alerts authorities and anti-access groups that we aren’t taking proper care of our riding areas. If you aren’t aware, these anti-access groups take pictures of the trails and use trash and other things left behind against us when fighting to shut down trails and riding areas. If you’ve been involved with the Glamis sand dunes over the past 2 decades, then you know about the extreme closures that were put into place, and we’ll use this recreation area as our prime example. After almost 20 years of litigation, scientific research, and countless volunteer hours by selfless individuals, the closures that shut down 40,000+ acres in the early 2000’s have mostly been reopened. The American Sand Association (ASA) was one of the top non-profit organizations, which essentially all rely on our donation dollars, to get these closures reopened. There is still more work to do… Needless to say, none of us want to see such a battle for open land again! But that day will come, and the ASA and others need our help.
So, with this in mind, we’d like to go over several tips and tricks for making sure that you, along with your entire camp and the entire riding area, and picking up your trash at camp, along the trail, and everywhere in between. It only takes seconds to pick something up, literally! So, why doesn’t everyone do this?
At the end of the day, we want to protect our current right to ride while also preserving this right for our future generations to enjoy. Let’s get started…
ON THE TRAIL
You’ve all been riding through dunes or on the trail and noticed little pieces of leftover wrappers, plastic baggies, and, of course, the UTV belt shreds that are unfortunately littering the sand these days. All of these things are usually small enough to fit into a little trash bag, but many people just leave the little items littering the dunes. How can people be so careless?
As a helpful tip, we like to carry dog waste pickup bags with us, mainly because our pups like to ride the dunes with us but also because little doggie bags work great as small trash bags that are easily stored in a glove box or ice chest. If you have these little baggies on the roll with the little plastic holder on their leash (we use the leash and harness to tie the pup in, giving us the opportunity to have easy access to the bags when needed), then you have easy access to the bags in the dunes. Or, for the many of you who don’t take your dogs in the dunes with you, these little bag holders are great to carry in your off-road vehicle’s glove box or your backpack. It’s a $10-$15 solution that you can buy at your local store or on Amazon. Easy, peazy!
Please don’t hesitate to pick up the trash you see on the trail. If you or someone in your group blows a belt on a UTV, please don’t leave the shards. Take a dog bag or something else and make sure you pick up all of the leftovers. If you see cans or wrappers at the hill or places you hang out, take the 30 seconds to pick up the trash. Just tell yourself that “it’s great exercise”.
Throughout your camping weekend, it is helpful if you make periodic times to pick up trash.
One of the things that has helped us make this happen is to have an outdoor trash can for everyone to use. Some campers choose to bring a hard plastic trash can, which is steady in the wind and easy to put a little sand in the bottom should you need to stabilize it even further.
If you’d like a more portable type of trash can, we have found that the plastic expandable versions work great! These can be found at your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, WalMart, etc… Not only are these collapsible trash cans compact in size, but they still hold the black, large plastic bags that are tough in the elements. These are a great solution for your camping needs, and we find that they are space savers as well.
At the end of your trip, make sure you clean up your fire pit by completely putting out the fire, taking any leftover wood out of there, and covering it completely so the ashes don’t blow around in the wind.
PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT
This saying is one you have heard before, but have you really “heard” it?! It pains us when we see campers pulling away from their campsite with leftovers staying behind on the ground. It’s very simple – do a once-around on your campsite before you leave and make sure that you have picked up all leftovers. It’s a practice that will benefit the rest of the campers enjoying the trails now and well into the future.
The best part about this practice is the fact that you can teach your kiddos the benefit of picking up trash by giving them a trash bag and having them follow you around camp before you leave. Make it fun – get a cool picker upper tool from the dollar store and let them go to town picking up trash. Teach them how to handle nails should they find them. If you really want to get serious, hand them a cheap metal detector – it’s a full-on treasure hunt! Make it a challenge – who can get the most trash picked up? Just be careful of sharp objects. Pick 2 different times per day to pick up trash with them, and you can make it a ritual while camping.
Some people just “want to get out of there” when leaving camp. But, honestly, will the extra time spent picking up your trash for 10 minutes really take away from your drive home? No, so it’s an easy decision to make. Take the extra time to make sure you pick up all of your trash. Use the receptacles that are at the exit of almost all of the major camping areas. Plus, you’ll have empty trash cans when you get home.
Last but not least, when you are looking for a trash receptacle at your riding area to place your trash in, be sure that you don’t put it beside the trash bin if it is already full. We see this all too often – campers love to put their trash right next to the bin if it is overflowing, even if some of the other bins in the lineup are below the full line. Again, just like picking up around your campsite, take the extra time to find the empty bin to place your trash in. If there are no empty bins, then please take your trash home with you and don’t place it on the ground. The trash truck drivers aren’t responsible for picking up your bags when they are on the ground and they shouldn’t have to do this.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Over the past several decades, organizations like the American Sand Association (ASA), the Off Road Business Association (ORBA), California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), Blueribbon Coalition, Friends of Oceano Dunes, and so many more have fought through many different lawsuits and attacks to try and get our riding areas shutdown. These organizations can use your help to fight the fight, and here are some tips on how to get involved:
- Participate in cleanups at your riding area throughout the year, or establish one with the help of the BLM and your local land protection organization
- Donate your time (volunteering efforts) to the organizations that keep our riding areas open
- Make yearly (or more often) monetary donations to the organizations if you can.
- Spread the word! Get more people involved with these organizations so we can expand the reach of the organizations that help us keep riding areas open for future generations to enjoy
Here is a list of organizations that have a widespread reach in keeping our lands open:
- Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
- American Sand Association (ASA)
- California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA)
- Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC)
- National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC)
- Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROVHA)
- Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA)
- Tread Lightly!
- United Four Wheel Drive Associations
- Off-Road Business Association (ORBA)
- Blueribbon Coalition
- Friends of Oceano Dunes (FoOD)
Keep in mind, you probably have more localized organizations that are equally important to be involved in, and we encourage you to reach out to them.
At the end of the day, we hope these little tips and tricks to picking up your trash will get you in the mindset to make sure all of your trash is picked up when visiting your favorite riding areas. Whether it’s around the camp or on the trail, it takes a collective effort by all of us to make sure things are clean and left better for the next visitor to enjoy.
We’ll see you out there!