Posted by: James Wapotich | November 11, 2012

Trail Quest: Lizard’s Mouth Cleanup Day

There are not many places like Santa Barbara, we enjoy a great climate, and are surrounded by an incredible amount of natural beauty. We can easily access the coast or the mountains, and have a wide variety of places we can visit. There are parks, beaches, open space preserves, and even recreation areas in the Los Padres National Forest that are all within a half hour of Santa Barbara. There are outdoor opportunities for hikers, runners, mountain bikers, equestrian use, hunters, rock climbers and off road vehicles.

And yet it falls to each us to do our part to preserve this great resource, not only so we can continue to enjoy the richness of this land and what it has to offer, but so that this same opportunity is afforded to the next generation as well.

And while we have a strong tradition of community involvement here in Santa Barbara in terms of taking care of our trails and the environment, the word clearly has not reached everyone. If you hike any of our front country trails or along the Santa Ynez River, or even into the backcountry, you will inevitably find trash that someone left behind.

Empty aluminum cans, wrappers, plastic water bottles and whatever else someone chose not to carry out. And that’s the real tragedy, that it was ultimately a choice that someone made, consciously or unconsciously, to not carry out what they carried in.

This is one of the few problems in the world that can be solved at the individual level. One of the few places where we can have an immediate impact on the world around us.

And so it’s inspiring to know that there are people out there, in addition to doing their own part, are also picking up trash for the benefit of everyone. Whether it’s individuals picking up trash while they’re out on their own in nature, or groups organizing clean up days, each of these actions makes a difference.

One such group, are the people who help clean up at Lizard’s Mouth. This popular destination along West Camino Cielo overlooking Santa Barbara offers views of the coast and Channel Islands, as well as a seemingly endless variety of wind sculpted rocks to explore. And because of its accessibility the area sees its fair share of use and misuse.

Organized by the Santa Barbara Ranger District with support from members of the local rock climbing community, and businesses in our area, the Lizard’s Mouth Clean Up Day got started in 2000. And began somewhat by chance when a group of rock climbers organized a clean up day there as part of the Adopt a Crag program.

“I saw these cars parked where they were supposed to have adventure passes and didn’t, so I wrote them a warning that says mail in $5 for the fee. And a couple of them came to me when they got back to their cars, and said that they were there picking up trash, which I sometimes hear. But when more of them showed up I realized they were serious, and so I took back the notices and we talked about their project.” Larry Griffith, recreation technician with the Los Padres National Forest told the News-Press.

It was through that first meeting that Mr. Griffith connected with Matthew Fienup of Earthworks Rock Climbing School and Tim Coates of Real Cheap Sports from Ventura, and together they helped create the twice a year event.

Now in its twelfth year the event typically draws anywhere from 40 to 70 volunteers. The clean up runs from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Volunteers are given a raffle ticket for each bag of trash they bring back for a chance to win items donated by Real Cheap Sports from Ventura. Other sponsors of the event include the Isla Vista Food Co-op and Island Seed & Feed.

This past Sunday, November 4, was the annual Fall clean up day and saw around 50 volunteers of all ages. Among the volunteers were Forest Service firefighters from San Marcos Station, rock climbers from Santa Barbara Rock Gym, and students from Jose Caballero’s AP Environmental Science class at Santa Barbara High School, who receive extra credit for participating.

One of the unsung heroes of the event would have to be local rock climber, Joel Brown, who has promoted and participated in the clean ups since the beginning and regularly provides updates to Mr. Griffith on the conditions of the area.

Also on hand was Mike Lopez, from the Los Padres Forest Association, who brought his pack goats to help carry in water and equipment for the volunteers as well as pack out trash.

Together volunteers removed about 500 pounds trash from Lizard’s Mouth. Consisting mostly of aluminum cans, empty beer bottles, plastic water bottles, food wrappers, and other related garbage left by others.

Even more challenging to clean up is the graffiti found on rocks and the nearby water tower as it typically requires a power washer along with a significant amount of time and effort to remove.

“If you see people doing graffiti out there call the Sheriff’s department as the Forest Service doesn’t have anyone on duty up there at night, which is when it usually happens” suggests Mr. Griffith.

People often cite laziness or indifference as the cause of litter, but the more likely culprit is the feeling of disempowerment that people carry in their lives that leads them to believe that their actions don’t matter or that the impact is inconsequential.

The reality is that anything left there that isn’t biodegradable, remains there until someone picks it up. Everything that we take into our bodies – air, water, food, ultimately comes from the environment, how we treat that relationship is a reflection of how we treat ourselves.

If we want our places of wild character to remain healthy and vital, we will need to instill in each other that our actions do matter and make a difference regardless of whether or not they solve every problem. Each piece of trash picked up in the woods is one less piece of trash in that ecosystem and that in itself is a positive action.

If you’d like to organize a trash clean up project within the Santa Barbara Ranger District, for example along East or West Camino Cielo, or the Santa Ynez River, you can contact Mr. Griffith at the district office at (805) 967-3481. The next organized clean up day at Lizard’s Mouth will be Spring 2013.

This article originally appeared in section A of the November 11th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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