If you’ve stopped by Wanoga Sno-park this season, you may have seen remnants of sledding days gone by; a colorful heap of broken plastic amounting to a sled graveyard.
“I spent about six hours on Saturday getting the sleds out of there,” Ralph Saunders, a U.S. Forest Service sno-park ranger said Wednesday.
The Saturday after New Year’s Day, Saunders worked the better part of a shift gathering the trashed sleds and piling them into his truck. He said it took three trips to move more than 100 used sleds and 30 to 40 deflated innertubes.
Depending on the weather, conditions at the sno-park’s sledding area can be somewhat rough. Cheap, plastic sleds and tubes are no match for icy sections and brush poking through the blanket of snow.
After their sleds crack on the trip down the hill, a lot of visitors are tossing their toboggans into a pile — one which grows until Forest Service employees come to pick it up.
But the recurring pile didn’t start at the agency’s urging. Rangers don’t offer a collection service for the used snow toys, they clean it up out of necessity.
“I don’t think people have bad intentions,” Saunders said. “The whole ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ starts to snowball.”
Saunders said it’s been frustrating cleaning up the sleds (which tend to pile up in an area about 10 feet from the parking lot), but at the same time he doesn’t “necessarily blame them.” He thinks one or two people toss their sleds down, and from there, a pile grows.
Saunders said there have even been broken sleds left directly under the sign that specifically asks users to pack them out.
“I’m not sure why people do it, because folks are generally pretty good at packing out their own trash and things that they bring in,” said Scott McBride, the recreational manager for Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District. “For some reason visitors are thinking this doesn’t count.”
Last weekend, while Saunders worked on picking up the pile, users continued adding to it.
“I would say, ‘Can you please pack it out with you?’” Saunders said, adding most people responded by saying they didn’t realize it wasn’t OK to pile it with the rest. “The thing with the broken sleds is, it’s not any different than any other piece of trash we ask you to bring out with you.”
Dumping sleds is considered littering, but Saunders said the Forest Service wouldn’t want to ask law enforcement to come out to monitor or cite those committing the act.
“We don’t want it to turn into something like that,” Saunders said.
The subject buzzed around the Forest Service office this week, as realistic options were considered to remedy the problem. Saunders said it wouldn’t make sense to place large dumpsters at the sno-park (there are two trash cans there now) because it would mean having a garbage collection company make a special route out there through the snow.
“The really sad thing about it is … the dump said they’re not recyclable,” Saunders said. “They’re just dump fodder.”
Saunders was hoping the sleds, many of them still nearly whole, wouldn’t be a complete waste.
The obvious solution is for visitors to pack out broken sleds, but there’s another long-term, more eco-friendly solution: purchasing sleds that can make it through more than one season.
“People might want to invest,” Saunders said. “It might be a piece of wall art in your garage 11 months out of the year … but it’s more environmentally friendly to get something you can use year to year.”
Saunders said with the conditions at Wanoga Sno-park, the cheap sleds are only good for one to three trips down the hill.
“I see a lot of bloody noses and hurt knees and ankles,” Saunders said, adding the number of broken plastic sleds show the hill can be rough on people too. He encourages visitors to follow rules displayed on the signs: sledders should wear helmets and make sure their path is clear.
“Maybe those cheaper sleds are better suited for other areas,” McBride said.
Overall, McBride and Saunders emphasized a well-known ideal in Central Oregon: “Leave no trace.”
McBride said he’d like to see parents pick up the sleds so they instill that principle in their children.
“We do our best to provide a fun, safe and clean place for people to recreate,” Saunders said. “We do our part and we just ask that people do theirs.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org