Another spring, another season of illegal dumping down at the Beatton River north of Fort St. John, though environmental officials say they'll need community help to clean it all up.
Animal carcasses, including the body of a calf and skull of a steer, along with scorched vehicles and other assorted garbage have all been dumped recently at the unincorporated and unofficial campgrounds used regularly by the community as a recreational site.
The burned-out husk of an RV is the largest piece of refuse left along the river, on a beach littered with shotgun shells and other cartridges left behind by shooters who use the opposing river banks for target practice.
"What I found was disturbing - a deceased calf with various injuries was within the fire area. I then went to return to my vehicle, but the garbage bags across the way caught my eye,” says Fort St. John resident Melissa Lingel, who was left saddened after visiting the area for a hike with her children over the Easter long weekend.
The area, just a 10-minute drive north of the city on the Cecil Lake Road, is in a cellular dead zone, making reporting of and response to incidents by environmental agencies slow, if not non-existent.
Electoral director Karen Goodings is acutely aware of the frequent mess left behind by people, but says keeping the site to a reasonable standard became impossible for the regional district to justify when it was officially a rec site, with the land returned to the province.
“We used to have a tenure there but we gave it up because we could not keep it to any kind of standard that we could agree to spend taxpayer’s dollars on,” she said. “We actually had toilets made of rock, they were drug into the river, smashed, picnic tables the same, and we finally just gave up. Why would we spend taxpayer’s dollars, if they’re going to go to waste?"
“There is a mess down there and it really is irritating to see people that, for whatever reason, take their unwanted goods down there and set them on fire. That becomes a responsibility of the conservation officers,” Goodings said.
The BC Conservation Officer Service says it doesn’t have the capacity to clean up the area, and says it welcomes help from community members willing to volunteer their time.
Conservation officer Ellen Peterson adds the agency is also open to help with monitoring the sites, as local COs are tied up with other obligations and duties with a large volume of calls requiring a response.
“If people are down there and witness something, that’d be a huge help. We can’t be in places all the time,” said Peterson. “We are stepping up our patrols in that area, but the amount of calls we get makes it challenging."
“It is under investigation and unfortunately, the COS doesn’t have the capacity to clean it up, so we’re trying to talk to our fellow agencies and see if we can organize something or if any volunteers would be willing to help out," said Peterson.
And while Goodings says she understands the popularity of the site, she doesn’t see any solutions to eliminate the polluting problem at the moment. She's opposed to turning the area into another park.
“They are spread out across that whole valley. They’ve got little inroads here, there, and everywhere. I don’t know how you’d ever turn it into a park,” Goodings said. “Although I know how much people like it, I’ve been a little bit opposed to trying to turn it into some kind of regional district park.”
In the meantime, Lingel says her children were lucky to have been spared the view of the dismembered animals during their recent trip, and wants to see the area better respected by the community.
“Moving forward, I hope that individuals that use that site are able to do so in a respectful manner,” Lingel said. “We already have few safe, clean areas to explore and enjoy with children, we do not need to lose this one to vandalism and disrespect of a few.”
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News