Every day during spring break, Sara Melnicoff led volunteers on Potato Salad Hill, raking out tracks and picking up trash.
Melnicoff says that no matter how well she defines the route and parking areas, people will drive across the vegetation; no matter how pristine she leaves the ground, people will mistake it for an ashtray or trash bin.
“This is just a few raindrops before the storm,” Melnicoff said before sunrise April 8, as she filled a couple of buckets with recycling and trash. She has reason to anticipate it will get worse. Last year, volunteers for Common Thread, an initiative of her Moab Solutions group, removed 400 pounds of recyclable material from the hill on Easter Day alone, along with untold amounts of trash.
Melnicoff has been at it for six years, and while she said she gets strong moral support from the Bureau of Land Management and Grand County, she doesn’t get much help.
“How about just a couple of signs saying, ‘Pack out your trash. Littering punishable by $299 fines,” she said. “Then write a couple of tickets. Word will get around.”
Melnicoff also routinely builds small rock barriers to keep the impacts from spreading, but she said the rocks she can move by hand are hardly an impediment to vehicles designed to make easy work of Potato Salad Hill.
“I told Sheriff [Jim] Nyland that a couple of well-placed boulders would help, and he said, ‘Yeah, Sarah, that’s a good idea’ – but we still don’t have the boulders,” Melnicoff said.
Moving rocks could help corral activities at the hill, but Melnicoff said she really hopes she can move some minds as well.
“There could be a great opportunity to teach about the mentality of destroying things,” she said. “I don’t understand why it can’t be all positive – these people are here to have a good time, to enrich their lives. How enriching is it to destroy a place?”
Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland has demonstrated his commitment to Melnicoff’s cause in a more public way. He recently posed, daisy in hand, for a poster admonishing backcountry users to stay on the trail. There are three versions of local artist Laurel Hagan’s poster online at www.discovermoab.com, and the Grand County Travel Council is asking people to vote to determine which is most popular. Two posters feature the sheriff, with the flower, under the heading, “Please don’t crush the flowers.”
Given the ribbing Melnicoff said he’s already enduring from fellow law enforcement officials for the image, Nyland can’t be accused of not supporting the “stay on the trail” message.
At least some Potato Salad Hill enthusiasts agree that users need to be better stewards. Members of the Rocky Mountain Extreme four-wheel-drive club raised enough money to place a large dumpster at the top of the hill. They also traditionally join Moab Solutions for the Easter Sunday cleanup.
Volunteers met at Potato Salad Hill, just beyond the landfill off of Sand Flats Road, each morning before 7 a.m. The early start ensured they would get a chance to finish before the next cleanup effort was required.