By Elizabeth Mendia
Kern Valley Sun
Visitors to Lake Isabella and the Kern River have been consistently high in recent months, and thus the volume of trash that is left behind at campsites has been a growing problem, so much so that the Keepers of the Kern, one of the Valley’s key conservation organizations that provide volunteer crews to clean up campsites, has called it quits for the entire month of August.
However, there is other progress being made to address the problem.
“It isn’t safe out there for us,” said Barbara and Rex Hinkey in an email asking for input from volunteers, “The way things are going, there is no way we can keep up with it, even though Conservancy and some FS are out there. It’s not enough and it is not worth our physical and mental health to continue the way it is.”
The Keepers of the Kern conducts weekly clean-ups along the upper Kern River averaging 10 to 15 volunteers working a minimum of four hours a week, or approximately 60 hours of labor, according to Michele Lynn, a board member with the organization.
“They are supposed to camp at least 25 feet from the river,” Lynn said, saying that the proximity of camper’s to each other has made cleaning along the shoreline impossible.
The Keeper’s of the Kern also places extra trash bins and portable toilets in the eight dispersed campgrounds located along the upper Kern River through its Adopt-A-Campground program. According to their tax filing from 2018, 19 trash bins and 22 portable toilets were provided by the Keeper’s organization that year.
Photographs provided to the Sun show trash bins at numerous sites filled beyond capacity and evidence of human waste improperly disposed of near the river, including used toilet tissue and diapers.
There is some relief on the way, however, at least with respect to the trash cans. According to Gary Ananian, founder of the Kern River Conservancy, the US Forest Service was recently awarded emergency funding to triple the number of dumpsters at their facilities, and to empty them regularly, starting this past weekend.
“The extra bins and daily service made a big difference this first weekend of having them,” Ananian said, “We had zero overflowing bins and no trash issues all weekend. Thomas Refuse is servicing the bins every morning Saturday to Monday,” he said.
It is unclear at this writing if the extra dumpsters will also be provided at the established campsites along the upper Kern operated by California Land Management. The Kern River Conservancy, which has over 600 volunteers and also conducts volunteer cleanup efforts along the river and lake, has no plans to abandon its efforts. “We are here for the river and for the community,” said Ananian in an interview. “We are going to honor our commitments,” he said. The Conservancy has seen an increase in both volunteers and donations since May, according to Ananian.
In addition to waste, the physical impact of campers crowding into sites and creating physical damage to the forest has been of concern. The Kern River Conservancy worked with the US Forest service staff last week along Brush Creek and demolished eight man-made dams or weirs and a man-made footbridge that campers had illegally constructed.