Chris Grey spends most workdays behind a computer sorting out requests for technical help at REI’s corporate headquarters in Kent, Washington. This Monday was different. The IT director was knees down on a pumice field east of Bend, picking up spent bullet casings, tin cans and loads of other trash.

Grey was at Cabin Butte Pit, 12 miles southeast of Bend, along with more than 300 other REI employees cleaning up a long-neglected forest area popular with gun users and ATV riders.

“We normally do a lot of trail-building so this is a little overwhelming when you look at all (the trash) that’s here — we have been separating the trash from the casings, and the ammunition is outpacing the garbage by about 20 to 1,” Grey said.

REI was in Sunriver for an annual corporate conference that included a stewardship component. Working with the environmental nonprofit Discover Your Forest and the Deschutes National Forest, it was jointly decided to clean up Cabin Butte Pit, Horse Butte and surrounding areas.

Illegal dumping, drug use, random target shooting and homeless encampments are increasing problems at several wilderness areas near China Hat Road, contributing to a decrease in recreational use and complaints by nearby residents.

Local volunteers have conducted cleanups, but the garbage continues to pile up.

On Monday, volunteers were given plastic bags, buckets, gloves, shovels and rakes to work through the mess. They cheered as a tow truck hauled away an abandoned vehicle riddled with bullet holes. Some picked up trash while others sorted out the shotgun shells, bullet casings, glass pieces, broken CDs, water bottles and other refuse.

Some items will be taken to The Broomsmen, a Bend-based organization that specializes in recycling waste. A portion of the garbage is planned to be converted into an art project that will be displayed at the REI in Bend.

“Because the plastic and metal are glued together, the shells would normally go into the landfill, but we are going to separate them and recycle them,” said Hannah Johnson, owner of Seattle-based HumanEco Consulting, an organization that seeks to reduce waste through innovative solutions.

“We are trying to recover this material and do something good and creative with it,” she said. “The plastic and metal will be processed, and we will give it to local artists to make art and jewelry.”

The volunteers were also erecting over 500 feet of fencing to prevent vehicles from driving on unauthorized roads. Signs will be posted to advise the public on local rules and regulations as they pertain to the area’s use. The project also includes the decommissioning of four illegal shooting ranges.

The U.S. Forest Service allows shooting on most of its land with some exceptions. It’s not permitted to shoot at trees, across roads rivers or lakes, or within 150 yards of a campsite or trailhead.

Some areas of the forest are off-limits to shooting, such as Horse Butte and sections of the Deschutes River. But Cabin Butte is a popular shooting area because the pumice hill makes a natural backstop for bullets.

Following the cleanup effort, the hope is hikers and bikers will return to the neglected area to explore the nearby forests and caves.

The volunteers are also building 20 bee boxes to protect bees and encourage pollinator sustainability in Central Oregon.

“We hope to make a dent, but this is a big project,” Grey said. “If at least we can make a dent, we can inspire others to come back and follow up on what we’ve done.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

24055410