NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – One of the perks of living in New Mexico is the many places where you can camp, hike, and fish to try and get away from people. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been much harder to do and it’s creating a pretty gross problem around the state.
U.S. Forest Service staff told KRQE News 13 they’re constantly hearing complaints from the public about trash being left behind. The biggest problem they’re seeing now is actually human waste.
“It takes a really long time for it to decompose but also it creates health hazards for everyone else that’s using that trail,” explained Donna Nemeth, Public Affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands. “We’re seeing a problem with a lot of human waste being left behind, particularly in dispersed recreation sites,” she added.
Nemeth said the Forest Service is seeing much more traffic than a normal year in every district of the forest, especially since March when the pandemic hit. Parking lots at trailheads fill up quickly on the weekends.
During a recent weekend in the Santa Fe National Forest near San Gregorio, drivers packed the parking lot, and cars lined up along the dirt trailhead. Trail-goers notice a mixture of New Mexico and out-of-state license plates.
The Forest Service said they’ve heard a lot of complaints about trash being left behind, especially along trails in the Mount Taylor Ranger District near Grants. Nemeth wants to remind people to use their own bathroom before heading to a trail where there may not be access to a public restroom.
KRQE News 13 talked to some hikers Tuesday at the La Luz trailhead in Albuquerque who took bags and picked up some of that waste and trash on their way down. “They don’t want to carry it with them, which is really disgusting and very rude,” said Isaac Chavez.
“This is one of the best things about living in New Mexico is the trails, the wilderness, and the effort that has been put into them to make them available to everybody,” Chavez added. He said he picked up the trash to keep the trail clean for the next visitors.
“We have to cherish it as a community and as someone who cares about it and enjoys the experience of being outdoors, we have to make sure that we’re leaving that experience for other people,” Chavez added.
The Forest Service is trying to educate people about Leave No Trace, to pack out all waste, toilet paper, and trash when they leave the forest, especially since a lot of the public restrooms are still closed.
New Mexico State Parks are closed to out-of-state visitors per the public health order. However, there has been a lot of out-of-state license plates at the forest service trailheads. Though people don’t always see them, the Forest Service said it does have staff patrolling different parts of the forest, educating people about the state’s public health order.