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Awash in Garbage : Trail of Trash Left in Big Tujunga Wash Overwhelms Workers, but Volunteer Groups Help to Tackle Problem

September 24, 1996

It doesn't have the worldwide name recognition of Yosemite National Park, but the Angeles National Forest has five times the visitors--29 million a year--making it the most heavily used federal land in the country, according to U.S. forest officials.

So who cleans up the tons upon tons of trash left behind by such a massive contingent? In some areas, the task belongs to a tiny handful of workers, who sometimes can't keep pace.

In the Tujunga Ranger District, a section north of Sunland-Tujunga that sees perhaps 5 million of the park's visitors each year, two U.S. Forest Service workers spend one day each week cleaning up after often-careless picnickers.

The two can barely keep the toilets clean and the trash picked up in day-use areas. When it comes to sections of the district that are not specifically designed for heavy use--such as the stream bed along the Big Tujunga Wash--the rangers can do little but watch the piles of trash grow.

"That place is a mess," said U.S. Forest Service worker Diego Pisterman. "We don't have time to clean it up."

To police the undesignated areas, the Forest Service depends on such volunteer groups as the Girl Scouts and the California Environmental Project, a corporation funded by both Forest Service and private dollars that uses volunteers as well as paid employees.

The project's 16 full-time workers and 40 part-time Eco Team members pluck diapers and carpets and six-pack holders from streams, and also pass out garbage bags to visitors to educate them about the importance of protecting the environment.

"We all get a little frustrated," said 21-year-old Eco Team member Nikki Montague. "It's not as bad as it was three years ago, [but] it's still pretty bad."

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