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Erin Fitzgerald.
Trail runner battles forest litter posted on 08/01/2016

In September 2014, Portland resident Erin Fitzgerald arrived at Skibowl to help train for a mountain race in Colorado. But as she ascended the slopes, she was shocked by how much litter was strewn about in the forest.

“I wasn’t prepared to pick everything up,” Fitzgerald said, noting she could only fit a small amount in the hydration vest she wore. “I probably would have needed 50 hydration vests or more.”

Fitzgerald, a trail runner who also runs frequently in Portland’s Forest Park and in the Columbia River Gorge, returned and picked up as much as she could, filling a 13-gallon trash bag to the brim and still not taking away all the trash. She returned to Skibowl in 2015, found some more trash, “but not a ton,” and picked up what she could.

But earlier this year, Fitzgerald once again went running at Skibowl and found the situation was worse. Beer cans, papers, all types of plastics and more were back on the trail, which she dutifully picked up again.

“It’s just too bad,” said Fitzgerald, who chronicles her work on cleaning up the trash on her blog, adventuresinthumbholes.com. “I kept thinking, ‘Why do people think its okay to toss something off the chairlift.’ I was trying to wrap my head around why people litter. The best thing I could come up with is they don’t have the connection to the natural world. Litter is unattractive, it’s costly to pick up and harmful to wildlife and rivers.”

Fitzgerald plans on returning sometime in early August for another training run and to check on the conditions of the trails.

Hans Wipper, Public Relations for Skibowl, noted littering is a problem at the resort, despite the fact that they have receptacles in various locations, including at the bottom and tops of lifts. But  despite their efforts, litter still makes its way onto the trails.

“It’s really unfortunate that people feel comfortable or think its okay to throw stuff down (from the lifts),” Wipper said. “I think it’s a great thing that (Fitzgerald is) doing and being a great example. If everyone did a bit of that, we’d have a lot cleaner forests out there.”

The trash usually starts appearing in the spring when the snow starts to melt, and Wipper added that Skibowl holds cleanup parties in the spring before the Summer Adventure Park.

He also noted that the problem is worse in winter because approximately twice as many people utilize the resort during that season.

“I just think everyone needs to take pride when visiting their national forest and do their part,” Wipper said. “When one person litters, others feel they can do it.”

Wipper also offered to supply Fitzgerald with gloves, trash bags and a place to throw away what she collects.

Fitzgerald hopes her story resonates with other people and inspires them to help keep the forest clean.

“I’m passionate about making sure that wild places are litter free,” she said. “Pack it out even if you didn’t do it.”

By Garth Guibord/MT

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