As dog poop on city trails continues to build up, volunteers and officials remind people of toxicity
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jessica Beck picks up dog poop off of Emerald Mountain every day. The amount varies, but on an average day, Beck said she normally fills about 16 extra large bags from the base of the mountain to up about 200 feet.
“I just want to raise awareness that people need to understand that dog waste is toxic,” she said.
Dog waste can in fact be quite toxic, said Kelly Romero-Heaney, Steamboat Springs water resources manager. “Not picking up and disposing of pet waste can expose our families to diseases when they play in the yard or swim in the Yampa River.”
A single gram of dog waste contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, she said. The bacteria’s presence in drinking water can indicate that disease-causing organisms could be in the water system.
“At this time, when we’re all very concerned about our health and infectious diseases, we shouldn’t be leaving bags of pathogens on the trail,” Romero-Heaney said. “They need to be disposed of.”
Angela Cosby, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation director, said the responsibility of taking care of Steamboat’s trails falls on all who use them.
“In years like this one where we’re seeing such a drastic increase in outdoor usage due to COVID, we need the community’s help,” she said. “We just need to ask all community members to be courteous of others.”
Cosby said the city has staff to collect trash from and around the trash bins, but employees have been particularly busy due to COVID-19 and are pushing for dog owners who use city trails to be extra conscious of picking up after their pets.
“If the community can help with that, it will allow us to continue prioritizing these increased amenities,” Cosby added.
The problem is sometimes amplified in the winter with skiers and riders who take their dogs along and are either moving too quickly to notice dog poop or believe the snow will cover it, said Carmen Welch, a volunteer with Steamboat Digs Dogs.
“A lot of people think that poop is going to disappear in the snow, but it doesn’t go away,” Welch said. “When springtime comes and the snow melts, it just gets worse.”
Steamboat Digs Dogs holds an annual spring dog poop cleanup and picks up more than 1,000 piles of pet waste.
“People don’t want to pick up other people’s trash because of COVID, but we really do need to be more aware,” Beck said. “We’re really bombarding our public lands and our outdoors this year, and dog poop can ruin that.”
Beck also said she frequently sees children eating snow, which could potentially be dangerous due to the amount of dog poop buried into melted ice or beneath fresh snow.
“The amount of dog poop that is piling up is a huge problem,” she said. “You don’t eat icicles that are on your roof because there’s so much bird poop on them; it’s the same thing here.”
While the problem can make humans sick, Romero-Heaney also said wildlife in the Yampa River depend on clean water, and as the snow melts, bacteria from dog poop can flow into the river, creating potentially large problems for fish.
“There’s an entire ecosystem that’s dependent upon a healthy Yampa River,” Romero-Heaney said. “If it (dog waste) gets concentrated enough, it definitely can cause issues in our water bodies.”
Romero-Heaney encouraged those taking their dogs on city trails to reuse plastic or compostable bags or use the dog bags the city provides along trails.
Romero-Heaney also said backyard composition of pet waste is not recommended, as temperatures do not reach an adequate level to kill dangerous pathogens.
“If you find yourself on the trail and your dog poops and you realize you forgot a bag, the next time you go for a hike, bring three bags, pick up someone else’s poop and then you’ll have a dog poop karma bank,” she added.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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