“The problem here is not the poo, it’s the people”
What’s with all the landmines I keep avoiding? This valley was never the site of WWI battles. We don’t exactly fear our neighbors across the Maroon Bells storming onto our soil and threatening our livelihood. Surely a few shootouts have gone down in the streets, but most of those took place over a hundred years ago. And we read about the occasional 2 a.m. bar fight on Elk, but we’re actually pretty darn safe in this neck of the woods. Thankfully, nobody has lost a leg to a local landmine. Perhaps a shoe or two, but those are replaceable. And washable.
Many of us can agree that it’s gotten out of hand. Often times, it doesn’t even make it to the hand. Or into a bag. Or a shovel. Or a used coffee cup, or whatever other creative transporter we can find on-site at the last minute. But it needs to. It is now mid-March and since it hasn’t exactly been dumping snow, the dumps are starting to show. It is disgusting. As snow continues to melt through the spring it will only get worse.
I’ve spoken with locals who have said things along the lines of, “If you wanna own a dog, you gotta get used to the poo.”
It makes sense. When you get a dog, you basically make a promise to yourself and your neighbors that you will be considerate and responsible, and you expect other dog owners to do the same. But I don’t think that subconscious promise is good enough. I own a large dog, one that weighs roughly 100 pounds and often leaves large loads. When I leave the house with him I pocket two used grocery bags, bread bags or doggie bags. Not one. Two. And I’ll admit it… on the longest runs, two bags is not always enough. But by the time my four-legged friend is on Round 3, we’re pretty far out there. At least, far enough from the higher traffic areas that he won’t make a huge difference, or so I tell myself. He’s also pretty good about getting off the beaten path to do his business, which I know is not the most common K-9 characteristic, but it really only took a few attempts to teach him where not to do his business. Try it sometime. Your dog is likely smarter than you give him or her credit for.
Every day I walk around town and do my best to avoid stepping in dog waste. Earlier this winter I didn’t mind picking up after other people’s pets, but that was in November and December before it really started to accumulate. I have since given up. Juneuary and Flip-flopruary made the problem more evident than ever, and I expect late March and April to be dog-awful. Excrement is in every other driveway, on every corner and even rudely scattered along the sidewalks of Elk Ave.
Crested Butte Nordic operations manager Kevin Krill says they just groom right over it. “It’s on our Nordic trails. There’s no doubt about it. I think if people’s expectation is of no poop, their expectations will not be met.” He continued that as many pet waste stations as they have and as many letters to the paper and people who get upset about it, the poop is just not going to go away. “It’s like if you decide not to be bothered by it, all of a sudden you’re not bothered by it,” he said. Krill has obviously come to terms with the issue he faces daily, saying, “I just try not to get bummed out about it and that way I’m less bummed out all the time.” Then he gave insight to some of the noticeably nastier locations around town:
—“The Gronk area seems to collect the most. It’s pretty conspicuous out there.”
—“It’s legal to do anything on the rec path between the bridge and Mt. Crested Butte. You can ride, walk, have your dogs, whatever. Lots of locals use that path with dogs. It used to be a Nordic trail and now it’s a full-on dog park.”
—“Town Ranch (the free trails) and the Rec Path Bridge…dog parks.”
—“If you’re a Nordic skier and you’re headed to Rudy’s Rollers, you have to tip-toe through a bombhole.”
Rosalie Ott, a seemingly selfless local who volunteers as Nordic ski patrol and cleans up dog poop in addition to educating people on the issues of cleaning it up, explained over coffee that the problem is much worse in winter than summer because typically in summer, dogs are not as restricted to specific areas by snowpack. Their poop doesn’t get as concentrated. “With the sun and rain you get a gradual decomposing of the waste,” she said. “But in winter you get months of it being preserved in ice and snow.”
Last week I had a very short conversation with a man I didn’t recognize on Whitecreek Ave. (did you see the runoff on Whiterock when temps hit the high 40s?) about cleaning up after our pets. He said something along the lines of, “Like it matters, it’s winter. It’ll be gone by summer.” I didn’t correct him, since we were headed separate directions, but I kind of wished I had.
I remembered I had asked Ott if the relatively dry air we live in helps expedite decomposition and she told me the waste doesn’t have time to decompose gradually because of winter weather. When the spring thaw comes we get a stream of waste going into the wetlands and rivers. Pooch’s Paradise, the dog-friendly Nordic trail near Peanut Lake, goes right through those wetlands. It’s on the edge of town, thus a high-traffic area. Ott admitted she almost exclusively uses this area because she rarely goes out without her dog. In turn, the area sees lots of dog poop that is full of E. coli, Giardia and other nasty bacteria and parasites. Ott noted that dogs can have Giardia without showing symptoms and their poop tends to be high in nitrogen.
Most dogs poop in town where it’s concentrated. If your dog does their thing on Snodgrass, it’s less of a big deal. But right by Peanut Lake, it’s by the water supply.
“When you condense an area like that you have this runoff really high in nitrogen and the nitrogen can cause algae blooms in wetlands and rivers.” Ott added that according to the research she has done, nitrogen also encourages the growth of invasive species. “Most of our native flora does not want an environment high in nitrogen,” she said.
I sat down with Kate Seeley, creator and facilitator of the annual PooFest springtime cleanup events that supposedly used to work wonderfully, albeit taking place during mud-season when town often feels ghost-like. PooFest began when Seeley did not have a dog of her own. She used to walk her friend’s dog a lot and thought the poo problem was terrible. She said to her friend, “If we got a keg and 40 people to come out, this poo would be gone in a couple of hours.”
And that’s what they did. It was $5 to register and you got a bag of beans from Camp 4, a Poop Shooter (shot of espresso with a chocolate-covered espresso bean and a shot of Bailey’s), a Pooster (poster), a discounted event t-shirt, a ticket into the Toilet Bowl prize drawing, and for every 10 pounds of poo collected you got another ticket into the drawing. The event was sponsored because businesses want the waste cleaned up so their customers don’t have to deal with it, and prizes ranged from butt massages to Poo Poo Platters.
Seeley said PooFest was cancelled for several reasons but her plan is to try to get people back into it. She has had many people ask her to do it again each year and one of her friends even calls it the “best fake holiday ever invented.”
Seeley says many things could be done but what she has learned is that people don’t like to pick up dog poop. “There are these poo mines laying everywhere and nobody’s coming back for that. The worst problem is you’re not supposed to just let it biodegrade. The pathogens in dog s*** are evil.”
According to Seeley, “The problem here is not the poo, it’s the people. It’s like the bears…it’s not a bear problem, it’s a garbage problem.”
So, what’s the solution? I imagine many locals have ideas of their own, but here are just a few to get the ball rolling:
Pack extra bags
Sure, you can take some extra black-green bags from local pet stations, but I’m not talking about custom doggie bags. Even the most enviro-loving hippies have a surplus of plastic bags stashed in a cupboard or under the sink. They’re used for more than just toting groceries. Bread comes wrapped in plastic. So do potato chips. We put our produce in plastic bags, and usually more than one bag per market visit. Ziploc bags, even when washed and reused several times, will eventually be thrown out. Why not fill ‘em with feces first?
It’s not a solution to the problem during winter months when you can’t exactly schedule a community cleanup day, but when the event was ongoing it made a big difference during April. Seeley mentioned her interest in reviving the event. Maybe give her a friendly nudge in the right direction next time you see her around.
Pay it forward
Kate Seeley had an idea: “What if everyone with a dog just decides it’s a pay-it-forward? If you don’t clean up your own dog’s poo, pick up somebody else’s before the end of your trek.” It’s a good idea, but would require a huge effort to create that kind of mutualistic relationship among community members. Visitors would be even more difficult to convince of such a practice.
Hire a Poo Crew
People need work in the spring. Public roads and walkways are one story, but private yards are another and there are numerous homes in town that won’t see attention until families return from holiday in Cabo or second homeowners finally come to town mid-summer. Or landscapers eventually show up in late May to perform spring cleanings. But many homeowners would hire a person in a few seconds to clean their yards, and we all must know someone who would be stoked to make a few quick bucks doing that job. Think of how much money you could make in a week while people are away on vacay.
“We could have a Poolice task force go around wearing little respirators and punishing people. Maybe burn a poo bag on their porch or something.” —Another idea from Kate Seeley. She has a lot of ideas.
PooPrints, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based company, tests DNA samples collected from dogs to determine which ones are leaving waste behind. It costs $30 per initial sample and each sample test is $50. PooPrints’ director of business development, Eric Mayer, says each client they work with governs how costs are absorbed or passed along to its residents. In a USA Today article, a property manager and client of PooPrints from Macon, Ga., reported that since using the service they have seen their waste problems almost disappear.
“We fine residents $150 if they don’t clean up after their dogs. Now we can have proof of which dog is responsible, so we know which owner to go after. I would say 95 percent to 97 percent of dog owners follow the rules.”
Krill says that obviously in the big cities there are laws and patrols and fines, but he doesn’t know if that’s a solution for Crested Butte. “We’ve done what we can—put up signs, made bags available and we check the stations twice a week.”
I approached Shea Early, wastewater system operator for the town of Crested Butte, with an idea. I had heard they were starting work to compost human waste for (non-edible) topsoil and was curious if we could add pet waste to the project. It seemed like a logical proposal, but Early says they can’t take it. “It’s basically trash. We will only be using [human] bio solids in the wastewater treatment facility as it goes for now,” he said. Early mentioned that one of the goals of the facility is to start taking food waste from restaurants around town, but that is a work in progress and they still need special permits to do so. He added that trash, referring to bags used to collect pet waste, is definitely a problem. “How we would separate all that out?” he asked.
And those complimentary doggie bags you find at pet waste stations? They’re not biodegradable. I looked ‘em up.
Krill and I agreed on one common reason dog waste often gets left behind after being bagged. “It’s kind of like the ultimate lie to yourself. The convo is, ‘Oh, I’ll pick it up now and grab it on my way back.’ Then you go, ‘Aw, shoot. I forgot.’” As Krill put it, you’re only lying to yourself when you do that. “The people who lie to themselves all the time are probably the ones leaving bags behind.”
I know it’s not always easy to pick up after our pets. When you’re walking your dog in jeans and tennis shoes and they do their business in four feet of snow, who wants to trek through the cold and deep, hopefully find all of the “business,” then transport it even farther down the street? I don’t either. But we need to be more responsible. Yes, I said “we.” So do I, and I’m working on it. I hope that you will too, and I think we should all be able to second that notion.