VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. – Some public lands are closing again, but not because of the coronavirus, because of litter and huge crowds.
Paradise Falls, a hidden waterfall in Ventura County, California, was packed on Memorial Day weekend. Brian Stark, Administrator for the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency says, "the pool under the falls is only slightly larger than the residential swimming pool, so imagine your swimming pool in your yard with several thousand people coming through it in a day.”
He says those thousands of people also brought thousands of pounds of trash to the 40-foot waterfall.
“People were trampling the wetland vegetation to get to the other side, we were taking multiple truckloads of garbage out daily and people brought a BBQ there and we have high fire danger areas,” said Stark.
When we asked what kind of trash was left behind, Stark said, "people brought picnics and normally a hiker might bring an energy bar, not a box of pizza.”
They treated the small waterfall like it was their personal space. And they stayed. So, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, which looks after the falls and the surrounding park, decided to close the falls indefinitely. A fence sits around it now, and rangers routinely check in. Initially, police had to turn people away.
‘“We just didn’t have the capacity to manage those crowds while protecting the resource.”
Paradise Falls wasn't the only area with problems that weekend. Galveston Island in Texas, posted on Social Media that their team collected 156,000 pounds of trash on its beaches. Helen Lowman, President and CEO of "Keep America Beautiful," says it's a problem that the organization has been managing for 68 years.
“Everyone had been inside for so long and it was just a chance to enjoy nature and get out and get sun, be on the beach, take a hike in a park, have a picnic,” she said.
What was left was a record amount of trash. Volunteers in Cocoa Beach, Florida, picked up 13,000 pounds in three days.
“They said it was more than they’ve ever seen.”
And, if you're seeing gloves and personal protective equipment littered everywhere these days, you're not alone.
"There are ways to dispose of these things that are safe and don’t leave it on the ground for somebody else to pick up.”
Lowman reminds us that all that trash eventually ends up in our waterways, which all lead to our oceans.
“80% of litter that’s in the ocean started on land, you don’t have to throw something on the beach in order for it to end up in the ocean,” said Lowman.
She says there's a good rule of thumb when you're headed out to enjoy public lands. If you pack it in, pack it out. Take home whatever you took with you.
“Please take care of our natural spaces, it’s all we’ve got and right now these spaces are more important than they’ve ever been.”
As for Paradise Falls, they hope to bring it back someday.
“We exist to help people get outside and have the feelings they feel in the outdoors but there’s a time and place for every activity and we’re not set up with facilities to handle large numbers of people for large amounts of time.”
It's a reminder to protect our outdoors, so they remain open for us all.