MUNISING, Mich. (WJMN) — After 1.2 million people visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in 2020, discovering the natural beauty of the area, National Park Service employees noticed a trend they wish would stop.
In a Facebook post, they called it an “invasive TP flower.” It’s actually human waste left behind by visitors.
“We hired a number of seasonal employees. One of them saw that out there and has seen a lot of toilet paper and human waste out and about in the park. They came up with that post as a humorous way to make a point,” said Susan Reece, Chief of Interpretation & Education for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
In the instance in which the toilet paper was photographed, Reece said there was a vault toilet about 50 yards away.
“We’ve been finding, especially last year and this year, a lot of maybe new visitors to our public lands. A lot of times when you’re new to something, you maybe don’t know the right way to do something,” Reece said.
Reece pointed to the ‘Leave No Trace‘ principles as a guide to park behavior. The park service works to educate youth and other visitors about the principles, which are designed to help people learn about the outdoors and how to behave in wild places.
THE LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Discussing the toilet paper problem, park rangers focused on principle No. 3, dispose of waste properly:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave any food or trash behind, including orange peels, sunflower seeds, etc. These items are not natural to the area, are unsightly, and attract wildlife to foods they shouldn’t rely on.
- Plan meals to avoid messy, smelly garbage. Don’t count on a fire to dispose of it. Garbage that is half-burned or buried will still attract animals and make a site unattractive to other visitors.
- For solid human waste, bring a small garden trowel to dig a catholes 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. (Use backcountry toilets where available.)
- Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white brands. It must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cat hole or placed in plastic bags and packed out. Pack out feminine hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes. Use hot water, elbow grease, and soap if absolutely necessary. Strain dirty dishwater with a fine mesh strainer before scattering the water broadly. Pack out the contents of the strainer in a plastic bag along with any uneaten leftovers.
- Lotion, sunscreen, insect repellent and body oils can contaminate water sources. Wash up 200 feet from water sources so soils can help filter out these items.
Susan Reece explains the proper way to dispose of your waste.
“A lot of people aren’t planning ahead, they are just showing up,” Reece said. “They know they maybe want to visit Pictured Rocks, but then they don’t know what to do when they get here. Or they want to see some beautiful view point but they don’t know they can’t take their dog or it’s a ten mile hike.”
You won’t find garbage cans on the trails at Pictured Rocks. They do have them at the trail heads and parking lots. There are some other options for cleaning up your mess.
Susan Reece explains what WAG Bags are and how they work as an alternative to digging cat holes.
If you don’t pick up your own garbage and waste, it doesn’t just sit there. National Park Service employees are left to clean up after people.
“We do, we pick it up. We want the park to be as pristine as possible,” Reece said. “So yes, we do pick it up. The staff wears gloves. They even have picker-upper tools, but you don’t always have that right with you. A lot of times we try to carry a bag and hand sanitizer. It’s no fun, but we care about the park. We want everyone to clean up after themselves.”
Aside from the immediate unpleasantness of cleaning up after another human. There are health concerns associated with not properly disposing of your waste in nature.
Susan Reece explains the health risks and dangers associated with not properly disposing of your waste.