Garbage and wood, twin themes in all summer campgrounds, elicit humour, despair and occasionally sheer amazement among the Yukon parks’ workers and maintenance contractors who recently closed the books on the 2006 campground season.
Richard Oziewicz of Teslin drives from Morley to Quiet Lake on the South Canol Road four days per week in Yukon South, one of three large campground zones administered by the parks branch.
He sees waste left by hunters, fishermen, canoeists, tourists, school groups and locals who use sites along his route.
“I find unopened water bottles, hundreds of those — same with pop and juice,” said Oziewicz.
“My biggest beef is fish, mainly lake trout and pike, filleted with a single scoop,” he added.
Once there were four of them illegal in size, most meat left on and then tossed.
“Last year I found a lot. There have been whole salmon thrown near bins.
“This year I found five grouse with feathers on and everything in them, laid out in a plastic bag, all that meat totally wasted.”
Brian Tupper, who services Fox Lake, Twin Lakes and Lake Laberge campgrounds also reported whole fish discarded.
“Strangest find was a dead dog, a very large dog, shot,” said Tupper. “Disturbing.”
Parks’ regional superintendent Gary Vantell remembers puppies being left at the Chadburn Lake day-use area.
Each zone exhibits its own character.
“Hunters use snowmobiles to bring an animal back to the road and leave gut piles and animal parts,” said Dempster Highway Tombstone Park ranger Alice McCulley.
She drags these piles away, “So that animals attracted to them don’t get hit” by other travellers on the road.
Fancy items turn up.
Oziewizc showed me a state-of-the-art multi-tool.
“People are hundreds of miles away and never come back” for the tool boxes, stoves and propane bottles left at site.
A full Tim Hortons coffee can was saved by Dawson regional office, but its not only Parks workers who score some of these goodies.
A Teslin resident showed me “an antique axe with a classic ‘bearded’ Scandinavian head and a North American birch handle” found in a highway can.
Another displayed delicately beaded moccasins, confiding that they were “really good ones, done in the old way.”
While recycling is not part of the job description, Oziewicz, a staunch conservationist, recycles “as much as possible to the Teslin village recycling station, and not just the refundables.”
He composts, “around two ice cream containers a day of fruit and vegetables,” he said.
“Every day I find leftover food: whole pre-cooked chickens, pork chops and steaks, with only part eaten, that I feed to a bunch of whisky jacks, ravens and a few squirrels” at Morley and Teslin campgrounds.
“What possesses people to abandon so much food — like whole bags of potatoes, onions, canned goods, perfectly good trays of expensive berries, smoked salmon?”
In 2005, Oziewicz took a large Teslin group to task after they abandoned so much new, unopened food that it took three garbage bags to haul it.
Tupper, too, is “amazed by whole rib sections of roasted animals” left behind.
But his favourite memory is of three Germans who abandoned plans to over-winter, leaving him a 22.5-kilogram sack of organic white beans.
“All those beans … in a tiny cabin.”
Campground workers, armed with trucks, tree-cutting equipment, sanitary and safety gear, washers, bags and a needle stick, each drive as much as 12,000 to 20,000 kilometres each summer to visit the 41 campgrounds maintained by Yukon parks branch.
They clean toilets, fill wood boxes, empty garbage, clear fallen trees, fix whatever is broken, and collect fees or tags from self-registration vaults.
Vantrell remarked on one nasty hazard.
“Needles go in spurts. Brian Tupper at Fox Lake had 20 needles in one campground in one summer.”
Tupper, a 20-year veteran, said needles at Lake Laberge and Fox Lake are now, “A recreational thing people take camping, like booze.
“I worry about kids. Kids aren’t taught to avoid them.”
Oziewicz described being jabbed as one of his scariest moments.
Vantell recounted a 2004 report on fire pits booby-trapped with propane bottles.
Yet most workers love the job, and for similar reasons.
“I like the quiet and independence,” said Oziewicz. “I have regular access to remote areas. The wildlife I get to see is a real privilege.”
Workers can wind up on Yukoners’ waste and sanitary habits, but it is overuse of free wood that flabbergasts parks personnel at every level.
As well, overuse eats into parks’ budget and contractors’ profit
“Firewood is our (parks) greatest expense. We provide free wood and want to educate people not to burn too much. Tourists use the least.
“Teslin Campground uses 10 to 15 cords a summer, Marsh Lake 40 cords and Tagish maybe 55 cords, but Kusawa uses around 60 a season.
“Kusawa is the worst, and that’s all Yukoners.
It used 15 cords in a weekend once,” said Vantell. “People set up camp and burn a fire all day.”
As gas prices push Yukoners into camping holidays, overuse “in the neighbourhood of 80 cords, and growing, for my three campgrounds” could spell the end of free wood, said Tupper.
George Nazeopolis, regional superintendent based in Haines Junction agreed.
“Seventy five per cent of our wood is used by Yukoners; probably only 10 per cent of (campground) users.”
The annual average of 700 cords, at $160 to $220 per cord, takes 8.5 per cent of parks’ annual budget
It frustrates contractors like Dawson’s Dale Roberts, who supplies 34 cords of slab to the Klondike River Campground.
“It is hard to catch people who steal wood, but I got to keep the wood boxes full. I put in 260 hours, work seven days a week and hardly make it through, money-wise.”
“We are running all summer to keep the boxes full, especially this last summer,” said Tupper.
Vantell stressed that Yukon campgrounds are renown.
“Our comment cards tell us we have ‘the best campgrounds in the country.’”
Oziewicz agreed: “Ten times this year people came back to tell me how nice Canadian and Yukon campgrounds are compared to those in the USA.
“Swiss, German and Austrians, particularly, all commonly say there is nothing left in Europe akin to this.”
US tourists who increasingly stay in territorial campsites tell Tupper that “the Yukon is what they thought Alaska would be like.”
While wood and garbage inspire one story, outhouses trigger another.
“You wouldn’t believe what people put into the tanks. You should talk to the induction guys” (who suction outhouses), chuckled Vantell.