Waiting for the ‘poop fairies’
Last updated 3/28/2023 at Noon
Along with construction and maintenance, Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) also faces challenges like vandalism — and dog poop.
The number one mythic question in the woods is not “Is there a Sasquatch?” Rather “Is there a Poop Fairy?”
Many seem to believe so, based on their own words.
Rick Retzman, a Sisters Trails Alliance board member, has talked to some of these “believers,” who think that it is the responsibility of someone else, “fairies” who must flit about the woods after dark picking up bags of and piles of dog poop.
“I’ve approached a couple different people and this is the silly attitude people have. ‘Hey ma’am, can you carry that bag back to your car, we’re pretty close to the trailhead?’ And they respond, ‘Oh, no, I just drop them here on the trail for the rangers to pick up.’”
There are no rangers or anyone else to pick up what others leave behind.
Retzman continues, “I reminded another woman that it’s bad to just leave the poop bag on the trail, and she interrupted me by saying, ‘Well, it’s biodegradable.’
“Yes, the poop will go in a couple months if not contained. With a plastic bag it’s gonna take a couple years to go away even though it’s in a biodegradable bag.”
Although there is no such thing as a poop fairy, Retzman and other hikers who consider themselves stewards of the trail will often pick up the waste of others rather than leave it on the trail.
“Personally, I pick up probably five gallons a year! That’s a lot of poop. And that’s typically bagged poop. If a dog has defecated on the trail I’ll just kick it off to the side.”
Having to pick up after “irresponsible” hikers is a real frustration for Retzman and others like him.
“The frustration level comes with taking care of your dog,” Retzman said. “It is your dog. Be responsible. Leave no trace — pack it in, pack it out, should be the goal always. You don’t want reminders that people have been there before you, especially reminded by little bags of dog poop on the trail.”
Presently there are no waste cans at STA-maintained trailheads.
However, there are plans to add cans at the trailheads. For a small nonprofit, it is just another added cost, plus the labor to service waste cans.
Retzman and others simply pack their dog poop out, and then, not wanting to have it in the car with them, park it in the gap between the windshield and the hood, where it will comfortably sit until you can get home and dispose of it in a responsible manner.
“We live here because of this pristine environment, and the more piles of poop we have out there ruins that sense of wilderness,” Retzman said. “It only takes a couple of rotten eggs to really mess it up for the rest of us.”
There are a considerable amount of people who park their poop bags on the trail, intending to pick them up on the way out. Scott Penzarella, executive director of Sisters Trails Alliance, has a solution that he uses whenever hiking; he always has a fanny pack where he carries the poop bag out with him, eliminating the need to remember where he placed his dog’s poop.
Penzarella talked about the ecological problems with dog poop. It is different from other animals that inhabit the forest.
“What most dog owners don’t realize is that, unlike wildlife — coyote, wolf, and bear — dogs retain a lot of nutrients (in their feces), based on what they eat. Unlike wild animals, dogs’ feces carry viruses, bacteria, and parasites.”
The dog feces carries “excessive nitrogen and phosphorus. When uncollected, they become very harmful to our waterways and leach into the watershed of our drinking water. And that means that we dog owners need to be much more judicious about picking up our dog poop in the wild. People really don’t understand the implications and so we really need to educate our dog owners on the importance of collecting and/or burying the dog poop.”
Education is one of the most important tasks facing the STA, Penzarella said.
“Letting people know it is their responsibility to look after their dog and remove any and all traces that you or your dog leave is paramount to…everyone enjoying the reason they came to the woods. I think that most dog owners are truly responsible; however as trail stewards the responsible thing to do is to pick it up when you see it, and not be disgruntled or expect that someone else is going to get it. I would like to think that we can create a trail-user environment that everyone can enjoy.”