Mountain Snow Brings Trash

Mountain Snow Brings Trash

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It has been brought to my attention that the amount of trash and disrespect that happens in our mountains every time it snows is of horrific levels.  I spoke with several locals and would like to share with you what they are experiencing.

The first account is from Emily Burgueno who is from the Santa Ysabel Reservation which is a tribe within the Kumeyaay Nation here in San Diego.  Here is what she had to say:

“Today’s drive through the mountain was very triggering to say the least. I’m not a person who gets offended easily. I just know when something is wrong it is unsettling to me. I was expecting the traffic because all the locals know Julian on the weekends will always be busy and when it snows it’s like a winter wonderland! So add those two together and it is the place to be in San Diego during a pandemic while most attractions are closed and/or very limited and everyone is restless to get out.

The traffic was something I was willing to accept but once I passed the new fire station at the end of town on hwy 79, immediately I observed people trespassing onto people’s land/homes. This was because there was snow in the yard where they were trespassing. I had the obligation to safely pullover and tell them they are breaking the law by trespassing. Where I pulled over there was trash of all sorts.

Photo credit: US national Forest Service

The whole drive I observed numerous people trespassing but I am only one person and had a “no contact drop off” of medicines for a relative I had to take care of. Since it was a non-emergency I called the local police station and notified them of what I observed.

This is when I was clearly upset and on the verge of crying. Holding back tears of frustration. In our culture we are very connected to the land through our creation stories, language, ceremonies, etc… so it was very disheartening to see the land being disrespected in so many ways. I honestly didn’t intend to get so emotional but when my people, KUMEYAAY, have stewarded these mountains beyond generations of what is known as San Diego, California it hits me hard to see the land so mistreated.

I can’t tell you the amount of diapers I have picked up today as well as bottles, beer cans, gloves, socks, etc. It is a way of life for my people to pick up trash when we see it in our path. There was a plastic tub just sitting there with about 1/4″ of snow in it and a dirty diaper on the side of it. It couldn’t fit in my trunk of my car so I had to lean back the passenger seat down so it could fit inside my car. That’s how big it was and someone just left it there. I don’t know how people can think this is okay.
mountain snow brings trash I saw your post and I had to reach out because so many continue to romanticize the mountains, Julian, & the snow and they never mention this reality of being a guest here. The locals gladly welcome guests but people need to learn how to be a good guest. Park in safe areas and not on the highway. I couldn’t even count how many cars park on the highway to stop and play in the snow.

Locals have to put up cones with caution tape to show that it isn’t an area to trespass on. It is quite unsettling because not all guests have the best intentions either and I wouldn’t want them in my yard.  A guest’s day visit is a local’s week-month clean up. If you consider the amount of people that visited the mountain after this last snowfall during this time when most are restless to go somewhere, it was doubled if not tripled litter left behind. That drive literally made my head hurt seeing the things I did. We as guests to this planet all need to do better.

One last thing to mention, the amount of people taking snow home with them is not okay. If you don’t visit these areas during their dry seasons then you don’t know how thirsty they are! These mountains need all the water they can get to continue growing healthy. I know I sound ridiculous but my parents have shown me ways to know when the land is in need of water. Certain plants won’t grow. Certain animals won’t visit. Certain things happen when our ecosystem is out of whack.

It isn’t just a couple snowballs that are being taken. It is literally full truck beds of snow. I’m not making this up, you can ask the locals we have seen it all. At one time people were trespassing and sledding on cemeteries.”


The second account is from Rami Abdel of the San Diego Backcountry Visitors Bureau:

“Thank you Jessica for the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges we’re currently facing in the San Diego Backcountry. Snow days and the ensuing aftermath of traffic congestion, accidents and littering are an on-going challenge that hit a new high in 2020. The demand on our rural mountain communities, for both real estate and public recreation, has never been greater.

The real estate market has exploded this year with more and more people looking to get out of the city. Remote working trends have made it a lot easier for people to live on the mountain full-time. With everything basically shut down in the city and people cooped up at home, San Diegans are flocking to the mountains to get away and looking for a little reprieve.

We’ve been seeing it all throughout 2020. Now add a little snowfall and you can see how this all becomes a recipe for disaster. The town has been swamped since the snow started on Monday and it hasn’t let up. Rancho Cuyamaca State Park and Lake Cuyamaca are also heavily impacted by visitors since they are also at higher elevations. It’s getting harder to control such an influx of visitors and the demand on our local law enforcement and first responders is tremendous.

Photo: Courtney Berger

It also seems that we’re getting a lot of first time visitors that are not familiar with mountain and snow etiquette such as; staying off private land, parking in designated areas and pack it in, pack it out. I am afraid that it’s only going to get worse as these lockdowns continue. They’ve created a situation where people are all concentrating in one area, since they have very little recreation options down the hill. This is so irresponsible and unsustainable.

Our remote communities, public lands, state parks and recreation areas will continue to feel the brunt of these lockdowns. The littering is the most disheartening part to me. You can always tell that we’ve had recent snow by the amount of litter spewed all across our backcountry. Broken sleds, single use plastics, cans and bottles and worst of all – diapers and dog poop bags.

I don’t think people are realizing the impact this is all having on our natural resources in the backcountry – some of the last remaining open space areas in San Diego county. Our volunteers do what they can. We organize clean-ups and try to continually raise awareness about the challenges we’re facing. We do a lot of visitor outreach and education through our Facebook page Discover Julian.

It seems like an up-hill battle at times, but we continue trying to do whatever we can. Please remind your many followers that we need their help to protect and conserve our public lands and natural resources in the backcountry. Please act responsibly and help us protect and preserve our backcountry.”

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  • Terribly disheartening to see the level of disrespect and carelessness. I live in Descanso and know all too well of the trash on the trails, the vandalism, the rudeness. I would love to help in any way i can. I am happy to pick up trash, to clean , to educate visitors, to volunteer. Please contact me at any time. We all need to do our part.

    January 4, 2021
  • 7/31/2009

    Mt Laguna is the premier snow play destination in San Diego County!

    been comin here to snowplay since I was a youngun — brought my kids — soon’l be bringin my grandkids 🙂

    when Mother Nature bestows a white blanket on the mountain, seems like a good portion of the population of San Diego and surroundin areas head up from the flatlands to enjoy a winter wonderland —
    KEY — is to BE PREPARED

    every year, I see folks in shorts & flipflops arrivin w-OUT snowchains to try to climb the windin 2 lane highway to git to the snowplay areas —

    folks — be aware — this is NOT the flatlands! — weather conditions can change suddenly in winter from a nice sunny day to a violent snowstorm — roads turn icy & slick in moments — easy to git hurt up here if yer not carefull and prepared — volunteer fire dept gits overworked many snow days doin rescues — and I myself, have pulled many unwary travellers outta the ditches & sideroads — even on NICE days.

    if yer up here in the winter BRING yer snowchains — and kNOW how to install em properly on yer tires — or suffer 😉

    best place to GIT snowchains — and SNOWCHAINS101 withem so’s ya know how to do it easily is

    EVERY snowchains set sold fitted exactly to yer tires while ya watch AND participate by the San Diego Highwayman

    oh, and what ya bring up — please take back down withya —
    [ trash, cardboard, plastic, ect ]

    Take nothin from the mountain but photographs!

    Leave nothin but footprints

    Don’t fergit to GIT yer “Adventure Pass” BEFORE ya head up!

    Or you’ll lose ye place goin to git it after ya git a ticket fer not havin it — NOT fun

    GOOD onya

    the San Diego Highwayman

    my search girl Shotgun Shela loves the snow!

    January 8, 2021

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