Sunday, April 18, 2021
Sun Valley Poop Fairy Follows a Mission Posed by Jane Goodall
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“We don’t have time to wait to pick up poop, anymore, with all the people moving to the valley,” said Erica Exline. “ I saw herds of dogs out this summer.”
   
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

She calls herself the Poop Fairy. And Erica Exline is delighted to do what others might find repugnant.

Exline is the Grand Poo-bah for the Environmental Resource Center’s PUP (Pick Up for the Planet Program.) She canvases the Wood River Valley, picking up—well, the little brown turds that haven’t made their way into a PUP bag. And she empties the ERC’s PUP bins so that they don’t overflow into a hideous mess.

“For many years, we struggled to manage the waste on our trails and trailheads from our beloved furry friends. When ERC began the PUP program, it made an incredible difference to what we saw out on the district,” said Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson. “Without this help from the ERC, we would have a very hard time keeping up with the amount of waste that we are seeing.”

 
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Erica Exline says the poop left behind before she began her patrols is starting to pop through the snow.
 

Exline, a graphic artist, ski instructor and mother, started her slightly paid role on Dec. 7. Since, she’s  collected more than 5,000 pounds of little brown turds at 10 trailheads throughout the valley. A lot of that is dropped at the metal and plastic bins ERC sets up at trailheads. Exline picks some up herself.

She might start a typical day at Quigley Canyon after she drops off her daughter Sophie at Sage School. From there she heads to Croy Canyon and Greenhorn Gulch.

Further north in Sun Valley she hits the bin at the bottom of Proctor Mountain, then heads out the winter dog trail at the end of Trail Creek Road before finishing up at Adam’s Gulch and Lake Creek.

“Saturday’s my big day—I can be out for eight hours sometimes, walking the trails, picking up poop and talking to people,” she said.

 
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Erica Exline shows how one dog lover purchased a bin in honor of Mia, “our guardian in life, now a guardian of clean trails.”
 

The ERC has worked with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Blaine County Recreation District to provide metal bins at popular trails in the Sun Valley area since 2005, said the ERC’s Executive Director Lindsay Mollineaux.

“When the program started, we didn’t even have the biodegradable bags. We’ve added to the program slowly over the years. In the past, we’d empty the bins once a week—every two weeks during slack. But we have seen a huge spike in use this past year. The challenge is how to meet this demand. With more people going more places we want to expand geographically,” Mollineaux said.

Last week Exline hit the Trail Creek Road at 10 a.m., embarking on a foray that would take her two hours from the time she stuffed her shovel in the lightweight Gorilla garden cart that she tows from bin to bin to the time she would weigh the dog waste she collected that day and put on her ski boots to teach a lesson at Dollar Mountain.

Those out walking with their dogs were quick to offer praise as they saw her walking down a nearly pristine snow-covered trail that was what Exline called “an aesthetic yuck” last year.

 
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Erica Exline loves to chat with those out on their walks.
 

“Hey, we appreciate you,” said a woman with a large white Akbash.

“Thank you. A lot of people don’t realize there’s a river just down there,” Exline said, pointing to Trail Creek. bank. Blaine County wants to hire a water quality tester. I’d hate to see our trails closed to dogs like they are around Salt Lake City because we don’t keep E. coli out of the water.”

“Thank you for cleaning up after all the irresponsible dog owners,” said another woman walking with a  miniature poodle. “It’s sad you should have to do this. People should clean up after their dogs.”

Exline climbed upon a snowbank and poked her shovel two inches deep in the snow, exorcising a turd.

 
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Gorilla garden carts can be folded up and stashed when not in use.
 

“If you see a bin in the distance, people will pick up their dog waste and take to the bin,” she said. “People don’t want to go jogging carrying a bag. Some dogs are big and who wants to carry a heavy bag as they jog?  And some elderly people shouldn’t be bending down to pick up dog poop.

“Many of those I’ve talked to are happy to pay so they don’t have to pick up their dog’s poop! Others say we should give fliers to newcomers that say: We clean up after dogs here. I’m not trying to guilt people. I’m trying to educate them. I preach paw-si-tivity. So much of the reason we have poop lying around is lack of education, lack of thoughtfulness.”

Caring for the environment appears to be in Exline’s DNA. She started Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, which brings together youth to work on environmental conservation projects. 

“When I moved to Sun Valley, Jane said, ‘Do something fantastic there like you did for Africa.’ I spent six years looking for it and now I’ve found it. I care about our trails and our watershed, and I am determined to clean up things to protect both. To have this opportunity is just fantastic. Instead of being the crazy lady out there picking up poop, I get paid. And it’s good exercise. Instead of being home alone, I’m out meeting fabulous people.”

Exline stopped at a metal bin and opened the back of it. She fished out a few coffee cups that people had tossed in even though they’re not supposed to and picked up some bags that had fallen on the floor, rather than in the larger garbage sack.

Many people don’t realize that dogs’ waste sometimes contains E coli that can be harmful because of the chemicals in dog food, she said. Ungulates have E coli, too, but it’s different because they’re eating grass.

“Even so, we’ve asked elk and moose to pick up after themselves, but they haven’t done so,” she quipped.

Exline is hopeful that the ERC’s Green Crew students who will be tasked with picking noxious weeds this summer will also be available to empty a few bins and restock PUP bags. The ERC has identified 15 additional sites for new bins, including the Elkhorn area and the dog park out Warm Springs.

“I’d like to get a fleet of Gorilla carts, which cost $100 each, so people can check them out, take out a scooper and help us clean their favorite trail,” she said. “And we need more metal bins, which cost $1,600 each but offer great protection against bear problems.”

Back at her SUV, Exline set 90 pounds of turds on the scale. She often collects between 140 and 200 pounds, she said. She can collect 160 pounds every three to four days at Quigley, and she expects that to increase as homes and other facilities are built in the area.

Exline dropped off the turds of Trail Creek at the landfill on her way home. But she yearns for the day that the ERC can begin composting the poop, turning it into usable soil that can be spread in city parks.

In the meantime, she’ll keep plugging away at her mission, even going out of her way on occasion to pick up diapers, fire rings and human waste left behind by pandemic campers near Smiley Creek and other places.

“The Forest Service knows this year will be worse than last in terms of the number of people hitting the trails, and last year they were overwhelmed,” she said. “But I have hope. Like Jane Goodell says, ‘You have to have hope.’ We can make a difference.”

Want to know more? Visit www.ercsv.org.

 

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