San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Monday, September 15, 2003


- Under Siege
- Cartels growing pot in forest
- Forest at crossoads over public use
- Lake not so crystal
- Fire threat still high, officials say
- Facing Extinction
- Masses and Messes
- A foul problem: garbage
- Groups spread blame for forest damage
- Forest dwellers have created their share of problems
- 'Static' budget hinders forest
- Bad roads hinder vistor, fire vehicle access
- Adventure Pass raises funds, eyebrows
- Saving the forest a tall task


A foul problem: garbage
150 tons of gargage collected each year

By Lisa Faught

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- Mike Hansen spends his Monday mornings picking up garbage along the banks of the San Gabriel River.

Wearing Forest Service green and protective gloves, he combs through the brush and scoops trash into 55-gallon bags. By noon, he is up to 15 bags. His crew hauls out about 40 more.

The trash is left from the hordes of people who head to the forest every weekend. They come to beat the heat, but leave behind mountains of trash.

Dirty diapers, rusty frying pans, fragments of carpet, plastic bottles, a stray mattress --all abandoned beneath the trees for Forest Service workers to pick up.

"It's the stadium effect. People leave all their trash everywhere," Hansen said.

On a hot summer day, the San Gabriel River is a shady refuge.

The river bubbles to the surface high in the San Gabriel Mountains, fed by three main arteries: the East Fork, West Fork and North Fork. This is where the people go.

CHP OFFICER John Escobedo examines a child seat in a truck at the San Gabriel Information Station along Highway 39 at the entrance to the forest. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
On any given weekend in the summer, the cars brave the twists and turns of Highway 39 and head for the water.

The parking lots fill up quickly. Before long, cars are parked alongside the road for miles, in spite of the signs warning "No Parking At Any Time."

That means thousands of people crowding the banks of the river -- driving big trucks around in the mud, grilling burgers on hibachis, whiling away the afternoon in the cool waters.

Come Sunday evening, the crowds empty out of the canyon, but leave plenty of evidence behind.

"It's like the Rose Parade after everyone leaves," said Jerry Sirski, district recreation officer.

It takes a crew of "rec techs" the better part of a week to clean up the mess. They clean through the weekend, but step up the effort when everyone is gone.

To save money, the Forest Service has its workers haul the garbage to the Puente Hills Landfill, rather than hire commercial haulers.

Hansen, who earned a Class B driver license for the task, empties the 45 large trash bins in San Gabriel Canyon at least twice a week.

Over the years, he has perfected a new design for the trash bins. They are mounted on a block of concrete, with a lid that automatically flips open when turned upside down. He figures the contraption allows him to do the rounds in half the time.

U.S. FOREST SERVICE lead recreation technician Mike Hansen picks up trash along the East Fork Raod in the Angeles National Forest. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
Between picking up garbage and cleaning up the bathrooms, the rec techs have time for little else, he said.

"If you can work here, you can work anywhere," Hansen said.

The San Gabriel Canyon likely sees more visitors -- and trash -- than any single spot in the Angeles National Forest, Sirski said.

People come for the constant flow of water and the convenience -- the river is just 20 minutes into the forest and right off the road.

The East Fork tends to draw the heaviest crowds. From the road, the river is just a short scramble down an embankment, luring thousands of people every weekend.

All told, Forest Service workers collect between 150 and 175 tons of trash per year from the canyon.

To boot, the canyon sees a fair amount of illegal dumping, Sirski said. Every so often, forest workers find truckloads of rubbish from construction sites left on the side of the road.

The sheer amount of time spent removing trash burns up work schedules, but left unchecked, the problem would get out of hand, Sirski said.

"It's on us to clean it up. Nobody else is going to do it."

-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at

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Copyright 2003 San Gabriel Valley Tribune
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