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Trash outdoors might be a slob’s litter but it impacts all of us

No matter who leaves it, trash impacts access and the experience of the outdoors.

Resized/Sun-Times
A bait container left sitting on a wooden bridge is the kind of thing only an angler, albeit a slob one, can leave by a fishing spot.
Dale Bowman

I made a routine call to Thad Cook earlier this week to double check the restart of fishing this winter at Powerton Lake.

Then Cook, the site superintendent, and I wandered to the impact of trash and littering on public sites.

Powerton, the cooling lake near Pekin, is near the end of a redo of the site from the parking lot to the launch. Cook sounded like a proud father. But he had a worry.

``We’ve had a lot of issues with trash,’’ he said. ``It is embarrassing as a human being, quite honestly. We are coming up on signing another lease.’’

Outdoors people acting like pigs is nothing new. I don’t care that it is a tiny fragment of the outdoors people, it impacts us all.

Powerton is not the only leased site where the behavior of miscreants came up in discussions with site owners.

Regional fisheries administrator Rob Miller mentions nearly every year in my talks with him about Braidwood and Heidecke lakes that the owners have concerns about anglers moving rocks around in the riprap.

In fact, it is one factor in why more shore areas aren’t open at Heidecke.

The rocks are placed in the riprap to protect the integrity of banks on the perched cooling lakes. They serve a really important purpose. When the rocks are removed to build a hole to sit in or piled up as a rod holder, it leaves a potential weak point in the bank.

That is more than just the unsightliness of littering.

Resized/Sun-Times
Pulling rocks out of riprap or moving the rocks to make stands for fishing rods or holes to sit in lessen the integrity of riprap, which is designed to protect the shorelines of perched cooling lakes such as LaSalle (above) or Heidecke.
Dale Bowman
Resized/Sun-Times
Pulling rocks out of riprap or moving the rocks to make stands for fishing rods or holes to sit in lessen the integrity of riprap, which is designed to protect the shorelines of perched cooling lakes such as LaSalle or Heidecke (above).
Dale Bowman

Littering is bad enough.

Earlier this fall, I was doing my morning 1 1/2-mile ramble with Lady, our family mutt, when I rambled past a blue bait container just dropped by the bank of the town pond. Other than those who feed their odder pets with bait, only anglers use those blue bait containers.

Maybe I was low on sleep, but it so pissed me off that I posted it across social media platforms. I am irritated by littering of any kind, but I feel a responsibility when it was by one of my own kind.

It touched a nerve.

On Twitter Nick Caralis (@Panfishpro LLC) noted, ``That’s embarrassing to me as this is a bait container left behind, most likely, by a fisherman. I identify as being a fisherman, though not part of the litter club.’’

The same is true of plastic wrappers for hooks or crankbait boxes. It’s not just bait anglers.

On Instagram, Josh Sokol responded, ``Whenever I steelhead creek fish, I find all of the community holes full of garbage. I have a box of garbage bags in my truck. Almost every time I go out, I’m picking up trash before or after I fish. Most I’ve picked up in an hour is five full bags worth. . . . I say you are just as guilty walking by a piece of garbage as the person who dropped it there.’’

Many years ago, Ken Schneider told me he would pick up five pieces of garbage every time he went fishing. I stole his idea and used it when going fishing or hiking with our kids as they grew. Our requirement was picking up three pieces of garbage each before or after we fished or hiked.

On Facebook, Dennis Parsons wondered, ``Why is it a full worm cup isn’t too much but an empty one is just too hard to take with you. It’s no wonder so many private lakes are closed to the public.’’

That is a question I have never been able to answer in anyway that made a damn bit of sense.

``There is definitely an uptick in garbage around the lakefront and harbors when everyone comes out of the woodwork for salmon,’’ Justin McGuffin noted on Facebook. ``People that don’t even fish those areas most of the year and they trash it.’’

There is something about the trash left around favorite snagging areas in Chicago in the fall that is both unholy and haunting, especially the discarded hulking dark carcasses of dead Chinook left in the grass.

It happens year after year.

If you watched the trash accumulate in recent years around the private land by the South Side slips with good winter perch fishing, you don’t need to ask why those areas are now closed to the public and only a few public land spots are left there for legal perch fishing.

Sure there are bigger issues, such as the growing impact of climate change and revisionism of land and water protections in the last couple years. But the bottom line is that trash is something we can immediately impact and correct.

As Cook said, ``It is embarrassing as a human being, quite honestly.’’