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Column: If you gotta go … you gotta go

by Betsy MarstonHigh Country News
| June 16, 2009 12:00 AM

WYOMING

As the Denver Post blithely put it, “the geyser was not erupting at the time.”

The time, that is, when two seasonal workers at Yellowstone National Park urinated into Old Faithful.

But something almost as startling was happening, thanks to technology: The destructive silliness was covered live by a webcam. As NewWest.net put it: “If you’re going to pee on a national treasure, you ought to make sure you’re not being live streamed to the web.”

Sure enough, someone watching the webcam while waiting for the geyser to spew called the park’s dispatch center to complain. According to PEER – no pun intended; it’s the acronym for the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – this was the first time the webcam functioned as a protector of natural resources in the park, or (depending on your point of view) as an intrusive Big Brother.

Both workers were fired by the Old Faithful Inn, and one, a 23-year-old man, has already been sentenced. He was fined $750, placed on probation for three years, and banned from Yellowstone for two years.

COLORADO

Here’s a conundrum: How do you convince backpackers to use human poop bags at a crowded camping area high in the mountains this summer?

Over the years, Conundrum Hot Springs has become the most heavily visited overnight wilderness destination in the Aspen area.

You might also call the 11,000-foot-high hot springs slob central: The Forest Service studied the area in 2006, and found that 71 percent of campsites had “partially unburied solid waste” within a short distance of the core camping area.

What’s more, the water in the hot springs has sometimes tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria, and the hot springs are part of the water supply for the valley far below.

Help is on the way, however, if hikers agree to pick up one of the 2,000 ingeniously constructed poop bags available at the trailhead – and use them.

According to the Aspen Times, “Waste goes into an inner sack that contains enzymes and polymers that change the composition of the waste.” The inner sack is then wrapped in a protective outer bag. Safely contained, the whole thing can be packed out and later tossed into the garbage, much like a used baby diaper.

The Forest Service hopes that the Restop 2 brand bags, which were partly financed by the Aspen Skiing Co. employees’ Environment Foundation, will appeal to hikers’ sense of environmental ethics.

THE WEST

During the West’s last nine years of drought, the level of Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam, has plummeted 100 vertical feet, causing unexpected and peculiar things to happen.

Where there used to be flat water with no pizzazz on the reservoir’s edge 120 miles east of Las Vegas, a dangerous rapid has emerged.

“The so-called Pearce Ferry Rapid features a sharp drop and a hard right turn, as the Colorado River tumbles around a rock outcrop,” says the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In fact, the new rapid is so fierce that one rafting website rates it as Class 4, on a scale of 1-6.

This is not the kind of problem the National Park Service is used to dealing with at Lake Mead, says Mark Grisham, who heads the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association: “There is an irony there that these flat-water guys are now dealing with whitewater issues.”

What makes the new rapid so challenging, he adds, is that it “runs right smack into a wall and turns.”

The falling reservoir level forced the Park Service to close its boat ramp at Pearce Ferry in 2002. Now it plans to build a two-mile dirt road for boaters just upstream from the rapid.

COLORADO

A police sergeant in Arvada, Colo., said that in his 15 years in law enforcement, he’d never charged a guy on a horse with drunk driving. But when the tipsy rider ambled into a busy strip mall on his horse, you couldn’t help but notice that he was falling out of the saddle, reported 9news.com .

A crowd gathered while police ticketed Brian Drone for riding an animal while under the influence. Then the cops had to figure out what to do with the horse. Fortunately, a local stable owner gave the rider and his mount a ride home.

Drone, who said he was merely out for a “joyride,” was fined $25.

WASHINGTON

A 2-year-old black bear, sympathetically described by wildlife experts as lonely, scared and kicked out of home by his mother, raced around Seattle backyards recently, for days eluding police, who dubbed him the “urban phantom.”

Kim Chandler, a Washington state Fish and Wildlife officer, told the Seattle Times that the 125-pound bear was as wily as a house cat and that chasing it was “kinda like the Keystone Kops.”

(Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo.)