Spring has sprung across the region, and with it comes the annual migration of residents from their homes to the outdoors for some much-needed recreation.
From fishing and boating trips, turkey and morel mushroom hunting, mountain biking, camping, hiking, kayaking ... nearly every type of outdoor activity increases this time of year.
While most folks respect the lands and waters they enjoy so much, sadly, many don’t. For some reason, there’s a careless need by a select few to trash our public lands, and it’s disheartening to see.
The big question is, why?
We have a lot of public lands in the region — conservation areas, the Mark Twain National Forest, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national wildlife refuge, state and city parks and more. These areas are set aside by agencies for people to enjoy, but it’s sometimes hard to do so when the actions of the careless are on such blatant display.
You see the results of their actions everywhere, from trash strewn about the roadsides and river banks to badly eroded trails caused by illegal ATV operation and fish carcasses piled alongside a boat ramp.
Take, for instance, the Mark Twain National Forest, where it’s not uncommon at all to be so far off the closest road you’d think you were the first person to ever set foot there, but on nearly any ridgetop or in any creek bottom you walk, it’s not hard to find aluminum cans, bottles and other garbage left by others.
Those bottles and cans presumably were heavier going in, so why couldn’t they be carried out?
If you’ve driven Wolf Creek Road outside of Poplar Bluff at all, you’ve surely seen all the illegal trash dumps along the roadside, a constant battle for Forest Service employees.
You also can’t go far in the forest without coming across somebody’s ATV tracks. On more than one occasion, I’ve had ATV riders tear through the woods within spitting distance of my tree stand, oblivious to my presence but ruining my hunt. Of course, such off-road trail-blazing is illegal, but many just couldn’t care any less as long as they do what they want.
Look at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. From a distance, or in a shiny brochure, the Current and Jacks Fork rivers and the lands surrounding them look pristine, but a closer look tells a different tale: trash, broken glass, endless ATV and horse trails and their resultant erosion can be seen everywhere. According to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, in the Jacks Fork River, the level of E.coli bacteria resulting from horse waste is a constant threat. It doesn’t have to be that way.
As noted conservation writer Ted Williams wrote in an article titled “Wild, Scenic & Trashed” in Fly Rod & Reel magazine a few years back, the Riverways are essentially being loved, and overused, to death as more and more people try to get away from the crowds by any means necessary, legal or not.
It’s all unnecessary.
At the Wappapello Lake spillway, a popular fishing location, it’s not hard to find tangled messes of fishing line on the ground, though the Corps of Engineers has placed trash cans within sight. And, you’re just as likely to find a big pile of crappie carcasses piled at the bottom of the stairs to the water line, even though the Corps provides a fish-cleaning station, complete with running water, a short distance away.
The answer can probably be summed up in a few words: laziness, a lack of respect and a poor attitude. Those who trash everyone’s public lands just don’t seem to want to make any effort to treat them well because they don’t respect the land or others who use it, and they tend to flaunt an attitude of “I can do anything I want to do.”
We can do better than this, and we have to. An old saying refers to leaving a place better than you found it. Granted, that’s not always feasible, but at the very least, we can leave it no worse off.
It’s time to haul your trash out with you. It’s time to respect the land and the waters and others who use them. It’s time for every user of our lands to take pride in themselves and be good examples for others. After all, the public shouldn’t have to be anyone’s babysitter.
Paul Davis is the outdoors editor of the Daily American Republic. Contact him at email@example.com .