Friday, May 7, 2021
Pandemic Cleanup Leaves the Woods a Better Place
Monday, November 9, 2020


 The isolating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic brought droves of sightseers to the SNRA this summer looking to shake their cabin fever and release some pent-up energy. The unprecedented numbers certainly left a mark on the landscape. 

 But, to the rescue: Nearly 150 people who turned out to volunteer for a physically-distant, socially-organized cleanup of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area during a two-week period in October.  

 Through wind, smoke, and snow volunteer groups set out with their trash bags and rubber gloves, scouring the front and backcountry for trash and whatever other discarded waste they might find.

 In groups ranging from one to 11people in size, volunteers following Covid-19 protocols were tasked with cleaning out and often disassembling overused fire rings, naturalizing unregulated camping areas, discouraging travel off trail, removing noxious weeds, and the very unglamorous task of disposing of human waste.

 From Sept. 19 to Oct. 4, nature-lovers, recreationists, locals, and visitors joined as stewards of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to do their part to remedy the damage of the busy summer season. These volunteers logged a total of 909 hours of work, rehabilitated 150 campgrounds, disassembled 320 overbuilt fire rings, and disposed of 123 instances of human waste.

 Some volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find little to no trash in popular areas such as the Saddleback Lakes or Goat Lake. Other sites left volunteers less at peace with humanity and instead imploring for the necessity of pit toilets at some of the more unimproved campsites along Highway 75.

 Not all of the tough cleanup work was expected to be carried out by these saintly volunteers alone. Funding was provided by Idaho Conservation League, National Forest Foundation and the Sawtooth Society for an Idaho Conservation Corp youth crew to rehab heavily used campsites and forest roads between the headwaters of the Salmon River and Alturas Lake.

 The crew rehabilitated and cleaned about 96 sites and 50 miles of road, targeting dispersed campsites, designated campsites, undesignated motorized travel routes, pullouts, waterways, and designated roadways. In addition, the crew expanded the cleanup effort to the popularly used designated campground and trailhead area at the inlet of Redfish Lake.

 The Sawtooth Society, the ICL, NFF and the Sawtooth Interpretative & Historical Association  partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to organize this massive cleanup effort. Also providing support: CLIF Bar, Backwoods Mountain Sports, Sturtevants, Atkinson’s Markets, Clear Creek Disposal, and Wiseguy Pizza.

 If upon returning to your family campsite in the Sawtooths next year you find that your towering marvel of a campfire ring has been reduced to only seven rocks, you have these heroes to thank for reducing the risk of wildfires. Over-built fire rings can often retain embers buried deep in the ash pile that can relight a fire and potentially spread it long after campers have left.

 This cleanup initiative marks the first of what will hopefully become an end of season tradition in the SNRA

 If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the Sawtooth Society, visit To learn more about volunteering with the Idaho Conservation League’s Wilderness Stewards program, visit To learn about the work the Sawtooth Interpretive & Historical Association is doing, visit




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