A group of outdoor enthusiasts has decided to take care of facilities up American Fork Canyon while the employees who normally do the work are furloughed during the government shutdown.
The government shutdown has been in place for more than three weeks — more than enough time for many public places to be overrun with trash and human waste while staff is furloughed.
Thousands of federal employees across Utah are out of work indefinitely while the president tries to reach a spending deal with Congress, including thousands of Internal Revenue Service employees in Ogden and U.S. Forest Service and National Park employees across the state.
About 200 employees are furloughed in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest alone, and the lack of staffing means there was no one picking up trash, restocking toilet paper in restrooms or fulfilling other maintenance tasks.
National Parks across the country, including Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, have reported excess trash and vandalism as the shutdown drags on.
But members of the Lehi-based Backcountry Offroad Adventure Rally, or BOAR, didn’t want those things to happen in their beloved American Fork Canyon, so they decided to take action.
Saturday and Wednesday, a team of people in Jeeps and trucks drove the canyon, stopping at restrooms to empty trash, replenish toilet paper, and in some cases, remove human waste from restroom floors.
BOAR is a group that’s no stranger to doing service projects in the canyon. They’ve previously “adopted” a 14-mile stretch of road from the forest service that they routinely keep free of litter, and build service projects like fences and kiosks, said BOAR member Brian Twyman, who lives in Lehi.
“We already had that connection, then this shutdown came along and we realized there’s a need up here, even though our preferred use of the canyon typically, which is motorized access, is shut down. We still want to keep the area looking nice and help out,” Twyman said.
Seeing social media and news reports about national parks being overrun with trash spurred concern from the group members.
“We wanted to make sure we stayed ahead of it,” Twyman said. “Or at least what we did to mitigate the program.”
Because they already volunteer up the canyon so often, the group already had some of the supplies needed to help maintain recreation sites. Depending on how long the government remains shut down, Twyman said they’d be happy to purchase more supplies.
So far, Twyman said many of the lower campsites in the canyon haven’t had too many needs. The canyon tends to see less use at this time of year than in the summer.
Tibble Fork Reservoir, a popular sledding, hiking and snowshoeing spot in the winter, had nearly-full trashcans and was out of toilet paper when they went Saturday.
“I think in another week or two you definitely would have noticed when everything ran out and trash started to overfill,” Twyman said.
With no end to the government shutdown in sight, Twyman said the group will continue planning regular trips up the canyon for as long as there’s a need.
“We love doing service, we love getting up this canyon in particular,” Twyman said.
If the shutdown drags on too long, however, the needs might get more complicated.
“Once the toilets get completely filled up, we may have to look into, how do you pump a toilet?” Twyman said. The group is also looking into the possibility of getting a pressure washer to clean off toilets and dirty bathroom floors.