WASHINGTON COUNTY (ABC4 News) – Dozens of local volunteers decided to take matters into their own hands after seeing Gunlock State Park trashed with litter by visitors over the weekend. They gathered Tuesday morning to help park rangers clean it up.
The effort was spearheaded by St. George resident Tony Engel, who recently moved to the area with his family four years. He said they’ve fallen in love with Southern Utah and frequently spend time outdoors.
“It’s all about recreation. That’s why we decided to stay here because of the beauty, the red sand, nature, and the outdoor lifestyle. You’ll catch us at Sand Hollow, Quail, Zion, Snow Canyon, or Gunlock,” he said.
But on Sunday when his family went boating at Gunlock State Park, he said he saw the area trashed with litter.
“It was tremendously frustrating. It just broke my heart seeing all the trash. It comes down to being irresponsible. Most people I know are raised to ‘pack it in, pack it out’ and we’re not seeing that. You top that off with the fact that we could use some more waste facilities at these state parks,” said Engel.
Jon Allred, Manager at Gunlock State Park said they saw an influx of visitors over the weekend, some from out of the area.
“I know that for example, Las Vegas is still on lockdown. There’s not much that’s open there. There’s a lot of people who are out of school, some people are not working as much and they may need an out. We understand that, but we recommend looking for spots locally. Traveling during this pandemic is not recommended, especially when you’re traveling to recreate,” he said.
Allred said his staff picked up around 25 large bags of trash and filled their dumpsters multiple times from litter left by visitors over the weekend. He said that park rangers have a wide range of duties and when they have to spend multiple days picking up trash, it takes time away from their other responsibilities.
“Litter is a problem everywhere. I know that not every visitor is leaving their trash or litter behind. But when you have a large crowd like we did this weekend, it amounts to a higher amount of trash. It’s a beautiful place and it’s disheartening to see some people not give it the respect it deserves,” he said.
Engel and his wife, Tierra decided to head out on their own Monday to pick up the trash but quickly realized they needed more help. They put out a call on social media and by the next day, their post had been shared hundreds of times with dozens of volunteers showing up Tuesday morning to help.
“It feels incredible. To have a response like this is just overwhelming. One thing led to another. My friends got involved. My colleagues at my brokerage, Be at Home Utah got involved. I’m stoked to be a part of it,” he said.
Allred said the volunteer efforts was a kind gesture for state park employees to see.
“That’s incredible and I’m happy to see that. It is sincerely touching for us as state employees to have people come out and help like that. To know that we have local residents who care and it makes us feel like we’re not alone in this. It takes a lot of pressure off of us for sure knowing that people love their state parks and want to keep it clean,” said Allred.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike that even as the state transitions to the “orange phase” of its plan to gradually reopen the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are aware about concerns of large crowds at state parks and will implement capacity limits as needed.
“I would certainly urge people whether they are residents of Washington County, other parts of the state, or out-of-state to be cautious, to be thoughtful of others around you, and clean up after yourselves. Let’s have some respect for the people that will follow us,” said Mayor Pike.
Engel said volunteer efforts from his group may continue in the future. Meanwhile, he encourages other visitors to hold each other accountable when seeing someone littering or take the extra step and chip in by picking up some trash on your way out.
“Look around, call someone out if you see them leaving their trash behind. This is our gem. We are all trying to enjoy it. I think if we could have a little more common decency, we’ll have less of these problems in the future. What’s the point of coming to a beautiful place like this if it’s littered with diapers, beer cans, cigarettes, and food wrappings?” he said.
Allred said the fine for littering is $340 and goes up if it takes place in a waterway.
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