Getting Gross and Doing Some Good

“Ew, is it used?” I asked. hesitating, unsure if I wanted to know the answer.

“Probably, but I can’t really tell from this distance.” Logan replied under his breath.

I inched down the trail, approaching the dirty white object that was the subject of our hushed whispers. I tiptoed to it as if I was sneaking up on a dangerous predator. Once it was directly in front of me and within arm’s length, I extended a gloved thumb and forefinger toward it, grasping the article reluctantly and with a extreme sense of revulsion, my limbs trembling with the mental strain. As soon as I dropped the item in the trash bag, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had successfully picked up the SECOND diaper of our cleanup day at Bull Creek. 

We held our event on Earth Day at Bull Creek District Park; in the spirit of Morton Hilbert, the passionate (and ridiculously named) founder of Earth Day, Austin Trail Running Company and the Austin Dirt Runners spent some time picking up trash there and disposing of it properly. As this year’s Earth Day fell right after the holy day of Easter, we were confident Bull Creek would be an unholy mess.

For those of y’all who haven’t spent time on a crowded day at Bull Creek, I feel like this newsletter I wrote some months back will give you a good introduction to the kind of society and habits that exist there. The park contains both the best and the worst of Austinite culture – a love of beautiful green spaces, but also an absolute disregard toward preserving them.

I’ll complain endlessly about the trash at Bull Creek, as I don’t like one of my favorite trail systems being carpeted in confetti eggs and other holiday trash. At the same time, however, it’s important to me that people find in this landscape a valuable place to connect with loved ones. Bull Creek is a place that provides a free source of enjoyment in a world where more and more places make you pay a fee to be there; for many people that’s an important benefit of Bull Creek, especially for those who can’t afford expensive family entertainment during the holiday when the kids are out of school. As Austin gets more and more expensive, Bull Creek remains a irreplaceable (and free) public resource.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel a sense of righteous anger at people who do permanent damage to these trails by either littering trash or defacing rocks and trees.  But to me, it’s important to recognize the balance between preserving these great places and making sure that people feel that they are able to actually enjoy them and feel like they belong.

Maybe it’s my populist streak talking, but I always look with suspicion upon complaints about more temporary disruptions of natural spaces, such as runners blasting their speakers, or people having a party. It’s a little harsh to expect visitors to treat green space in Austin (usually within earshot of a roaring highway) as if it’s some sort of sacred temple. To be frank, Austin trails are not Yosemite, and complaints about more minor infractions of trail etiquette often (though not always) smack of making sure the “right sort” of people enjoy the outdoors, though I realize there are sincere people on both sides of this issue.

When humans have a connection and love towards a place, they’ll preserve it. In my opinion, it’s important that we make sure people make connections to Austin’s natural gems, from Spicewood Valley to Bull Creek and beyond. So while I may cringe at pervasive litter and diapers on trail, I consider it the price of business to make sure that these places remain a valuable fixture in Austin’s culture. But I’d love to hear y’all’s take on this. Shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

Sincerely,
Philip

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