EDEN — Amid the spent shotgun shells and other bullet casings, a cushion of some sort sat discarded on the ground, shot up and full of holes.
“What’s this? Who knows? Looks like asbestos to me,” said Sean Harwood, who heads the U.S. Forest Service‘s Ogden Ranger District, which includes the Weber County section of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and more.
Over there sat paper targets, full of holes, while pieces of shattered clay targets laid scattered throughout the narrow canyon, a popular stopping point on Forest Service land for target shooters, north of Eden off the Avon-Liberty Road. Harwood noted the rainbow sheen of the stream cutting through the area, polluted, seemingly, by something.
“I wouldn’t even want to guess what it is,” he said.
The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, with its trails and swaths of wide-open land, is a big draw for outdoor enthusiasts and others seeking nature and a break from urban living. But increasingly, Harwood warns, some users aren’t showing due respect for the land. Some — only a minority, he thinks — leave behind garbage, blaze unauthorized trails, destroy Forest Service fencing to gain illegal access on their all-terrain vehicles to open land and more.
It costs his staff precious time to deal with the issues, sullies the land, spoils the outdoor experience for others and Harwood has a message: Clean up your trash, keep your vehicles on authorized roads and trails, and take better care of the land.
“It’s really frustrating from my point of view because I just don’t get it. We’re constantly chasing this stuff and it takes time and effort,” Harwood said. “We’ve got to have some help from the public. The public needs to adhere to the rules and regulations.”
On this day, the target-shooting area is relatively clean. In the past, Forest Service staffers have found remnants of televisions, computer monitors and more, brought in by target shooters and blown to smithereens. Still, countless spent casings and clay target remnants litter the ground, and driving further north along the Avon-Liberty Road toward Cache County, Harwood points out more.
“That’s a user-created or unauthorized route,” he said.
A clandestine trail, probably made by side-by-sides and other all-terrain vehicles, climbs a steep embankment off the main road to a level, open expanse. Staked in the middle of the illegal trail is a Forest Service sign reading, in part, “Do not enter/illegal trail.” Two large rocks had been placed in front of the trail to stop traffic, but at some point they were moved, and Harwood notes scuff marks on the stones, caused, he thinks, by chains someone used to pull them out of the way.
“This is Forest Service land, so you can use it, but you just can’t drive to it,” he said. Those in motorized vehicles, he continues, are welcome to go off the main roads, but they should park and hike in.
Such clandestine trails, which can lead to erosion problems, are scattered all over the place. “We have miles of unauthorized routes,” he said.
Over the years, the Forest Service has placed buck and rail fencing to keep off-road motorists from going where they shouldn’t. But yet further along the Avon-Liberty Road, Harwood points out a section that had previously been ripped out by someone wanting to get past it and subsequently repaired by Forest Service workers. Across the road, another section of fence has held up, and Harwood notes an area behind it, once crisscrossed by illegal paths but now green with grassy vegetation.
“This was all road, so we’ve done a good job of keeping them out. But it takes work,” he said.
Problems aren’t limited to the areas abutting the Avon-Liberty Road. They occur across the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and Harwood points to the growing population along the Wasatch Front, which creates a larger base of visitors.
Last year, visitors on four occasions cut a lock securing a barrier across a section of the Willard Basin Scenic Backway that’s not supposed to open until July 15, wanting, apparently, to get past early. Forest Service workers welded a box around the lock and someone later pulled the barrier completely off.
Just last month, Forest Service workers discovered a series of muddy paths around the Perry Reservoir off the Willard Basin Scenic Backway, which extends from northern Weber County into adjacent Box Elder County. Motorists on all-terrain vehicles had clandestinely gone around a gate meant to keep them out, creating the pathways.
“This damage will take years to restore,” Harwood said. “Plus, now that it is so visible, we will have everyone that goes up the road trying to get into this area.”
The area is so vast and Forest Service staffing so limited that it’s hard to catch culprits in the act. Thus the plea to the public to care for the land, to follow the rules.
“These public lands are out here to enjoy. Not everyone wants to come out and see them trashed,” Harwood said.