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Some Backcountry Travelers At Canyonlands National Park Will Have To Pack Out Poop


Some backcountry travelers in Canyonlands National Park will have to carry out their human waste as the National Park Service strives to better protect resources.

Beginning September 22, overnight backcountry permit holders for Chesler Park and Elephant Canyon backpacking campsites and the Peekaboo vehicle campsite in the park's Needles District will be required to pack out their human waste.

Additionally, the park will be removing vault toilets in two of the district's backcountry locations, Paul Bunyan's Potty and the Peekaboo vehicle campsite. These toilets are being removed due to the increasing difficulty of servicing the toilets, and in an effort to return the areas to their remote backcountry condition, the park said in a release.

Use of a toilet system that is either: 1) washable and reusable, allowing for the sanitary transfer of waste to sewage treatment facilities, or 2) of the type that treats solid waste with dry chemicals and is EPA-approved for disposal in landfills (a.k.a. "wag bags") will be required.

Disposing of untreated human waste in landfills is prohibited by the Environmental Protection Agency. Landfill-safe waste bags must be disposed of in a designated human waste receptacle, and portable toilet system contents must be emptied into a designated sewage treatment/dump station facility. Dumping portable toilet system contents and/or putting wag bags into vault or flush toilets are prohibited.

Human waste in the backcountry is becoming a greater resource protection and human health concern as park visitation increases. Park officials encourage all visitors coming to enjoy the region's backcountry trails and roads to plan ahead for ensuring they can properly contain and dispose of their human waste.


In my opinion the contamination risk to the environment (if you include humans in that environment) is much higher when backpackers store one or more poop bags (even treated bags) in backpacks where cross cantamination with food, clothing and other equipment is possible/likely (depending on the level of experience of the user). I'm not sure how the resource suffers if human waste is properly dealt with in the field since it biodegrades very quickly in the desert environment. Hauling wag bags along on a multi day trip means that backpackers will be hauling active bacteria/viruses (maybe even the norwalk) with them for days since the bags don't and are not intended to disinfect the waste. They are intended to only absorb/stablize free liquid so they can legally be disposed of in landfills like diapers.

It seems to me that a little education on how to properly poop in the woods is a better alternative than jumping in with both feet with another regulation which in reality will be almost impossible to enforce.

Holy crap, that really stinks!

I agree with slc72. Fortunately, this is an issue mainly for backpackers, and not often for day-hikers or mountain bikers. Also, I can't imagine how the government will enforce this rule. Inspections at trailheads?

Many years ago my family and I did a three day packpack with a baby grandchild. I made what I called the "super dooper pooper tube". It was a 4 inch piece of pvc pipe with a glued on cap for one end. The other end had a glued on cap for a standard screw in plug. We chucked diapers in it and carried it slung over a shoulder with a strap fastened on to the tube with duct tape. It never touched the inside of the pack and worked very well.

I think the NPS in Yosemite requires big wall climbers to carry their poop instead of dropping it to the base of the cliff in a paper sack. I nearly got hit with one once which would have irritated me. I have camped in Canyonlands and the Sierra Nevada and the ground around the campsites was surrounded with poop covered with a thin layer of dirt. Dogs love to dig it up.

I think all heavily used backcountry areas should require poop carry out. If you can carry it in you should be able to carry it out. You can even poop in a tent with a bio-degradable bag and put in the pooper tube. Of course people could also follow the famous "Siglin three day rule" and not defecate for three days which would cover 80-9O percent of backbacking trips.

I recall a couple of times when my family tried to camp at some beautiful Lake Powell beaches only to find them literally covered with poopy piles and shards of TP. It wasn't coyote scat.

Someone suggested that feces biodegrade very quickly in the desert. I respectfully beg to disagree. There's no way all that stuff on the beaches could have been deposited there in just one season. Instead of biodegrading, it simply mummifies. Dehydrated s**t just waiting for rising water to reconstitute it and float its bacterial contents into the lake.

There has been a very noticable improvement since Glen Canyon NRA started requiring porta-potties in all boats regardless of size.

When I traveled through the Narrows in Zion back in 1980 or '81, it was difficult to find a spot to sleep in any of the limited camp spots along the way. Now Zion requires Narrows hikers to carry it out. I think I recall that the park does require hikers to check out with rangers after a Narrows trip -- and that part of that checkout does indeed involve counting bags of trash and fecal material. (I acknowledge I may be wrong on that, but I tried researching it in Zion's website and found nothing. I also tried calling for information by telephone, but got a message telling me that "due to high call volume, you will need to leave a message and we will return your call as soon as possible." It then advises that "as soon as possible" may be two or three days. Perhaps someone else out there has the skinny on this vital question.)

Even with only limited enforcement and partial compliance, this seems a reasonable and fairly cost effective approach to a widespread problem, compared to past NPS sanitation efforts:

Some destinations are so popular, human waste must be flown off 'wilderness' mountains like Rainier, Denali and Mount Olympus. I used to hook helicopter cargo nets full of dripping fiberglass outhouse vaults at both Rainier & Olympic. The vaults were an improvement over shoveling into a barrel. Don't miss Rainier's instructions for doing your business in the snow:

The recently approved $700,000 shelter and sanitation 'upgrades' at Camp Muir did not even have a token reduced use alternative during the public comment period. Follow the money when NPS concessions are involved:

Speaking of crappy jobs:

Note the double-standard for NPS management:

From the outhouse story linked above, we learn of Congressional political pushing. But NPS takes the blame in the minds of some people. Perhaps we need to start looking more carefully at the Capitol Clown Squad.

"Park Service officials admit they could put the money to better use but say they had little choice: Montana's three-member congressional delegation, reacting to an intense lobbying campaign by hikers, directed them to undertake the project.

"We have far greater needs," says David Mihalic, Glacier's superintendent. Mihalic recognizes the "unique experience" the chalets offer but adds: "If somebody handed me $2.5 million and asked, 'where would you best put it?,' the chalets would be far down the list. The problem is, no one did it that way. (Congress) handed us $3.3 million and said, 'put it here.' "

But to Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, the project was "a critical investment" that guarantees the chalets will "continue to be a part of the park's future."

Despite the congressional support, the project has had a troubled history. A private nonprofit group named Save the Chalets agreed to help the Park Service with the financing. But after nearly three years it hasn't sunk a dime into the project. It hasn't been able to raise much money.

To the Park Service, this failure is no small matter. The agency is in the midst of a long-running financial crisis and public-private ventures are seen as a way to foot some of its enormous bills.

Here is the picture: The Park Service operates 375 national parks on a budget of only $1.65 billion. That is about a half billion dollars less than the Pentagon spends to build and outfit a B-2 bomber. It also is faced with a staggering $5.6 billion backlog of construction and maintenance problems. Glacier alone needs $200 million to fix its crumbling roads, historic buildings and sewage systems.

Some problems can be traced directly to Congress. Lawmakers often trim Park Service construction requests but then turn around and fund their own pet projects, such as the Glacier chalet renovation."

Lee, I do agree with you that there is just too much pork barrel politics going on. On the other hand, wasn't the $3.3 million for the Chalets an incremental allocation? Isn't it better that there was intense lobbying pressure that added $3.3 million to park investment, even if it wasn't the superintendents first choice?

But back to the pork barrel. What is your remedy?

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