Lake Hope State Park
Lake Hope State Park [Courtesy Lake Hope State Park Facebook page]

State Parks to Implement “Carry In, Carry Out” Trash Program

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Ohio’s state parks are cleaner. The perhaps-surprising reason? State parks now have fewer places where you can dump your garbage.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has removed 372 trash receptacles in the past three years, and park managers statewide say they are seeing less trash on trails.

So the “Carry In, Carry Out” program will expand into central Ohio this spring. It applies the philosophy that if there is nowhere to throw trash out, patrons will be inclined to take care of their own waste. After three years of seeing that theory tested in action, officials believe it works.

“We’re committed to this program,” said Jim Henahan, the department’s community-partnerships program manager.

He said not having to dump trash saved the department $65,000 in 2010, and there is no plan to permanently return any of the removed receptacles. Total savings from 2011 have not been calculated.

The program started in southwestern Ohio in 2009 and will be implemented this spring at Alum Creek, Delaware, Mount Gilead, Deer Creek and A.W. Marion parks.

The state has not tracked the amount of litter in parks where the effort started, but guest approval ratings have remained steady or nudged up since it began. In picnic areas, where trash receptacles had been placed, patrons gave state parks a rating of 4.5 out of 5 in 2011.

“It was just a constant battle to keep (trash bins) empty, and all we ever found in them was stuff that came from outside the park,” said Mark Smith, executive director of the Ohio State Parks Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money for park improvements.

Smith, who also participates in the Mohican Trails Club, said he hasn’t seen “any trash left anywhere” since the program took effect at Mohican State Park, about 80 miles northeast of Columbus.

Camping-based parks such as Findley State Park do not participate in the program, said manager Brian Andrews. Campers “are paying customers that have expectations. We have a very limited amount of day-use trash,” he said.

A few bins and barrels have been put back in some areas – the numbers are so small that the state can’t say how many – but those are temporary moves, Henahan said.

One place where trash bins were returned is Hocking Hills State Park, where on-site concession sales make collecting waste a necessity.

“Our big thing that we’re trying to get people to do is recycle,” said Margaret Thompson, the park secretary at Hocking Hills. The park has begun selling reusable containers and water bottles in the gift shop to reduce the buildup of plastic water bottles.

“Any way that the parks can save money is a good thing for them to do,” said Paul Wolf, president of Friends for the Preservation of Ohio State Parks. His group supports the statewide program.

“Maybe I’m naive,” he said. “I have faith in people, and if you ask them to do something, something they care about … I think most of them are willing to help out and try and keep the parks clean.”

Pat Holmes is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.