"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead
In the spring of 2005 I found myself enjoying a hearty breakfast at the Moab Diner with my family. We had come to Moab Utah to enjoy the scenic beauty, and tackle some of the best off road Jeep trails in the country. I enjoy reading independent newspapers when we travel and getting an inside view of the local culture. The headline story talked about a local environmental activist who had spent every morning picking up trash at the popular Potato Salad Hill obstacle near the Moab Dump, and Sand Flats Recreation area.
I was embarrassed for our community as I read the article, and my embarrassment turned to anger when they explained the effort to close the obstacle all together. While I had seen the crowds that assembled, it was not the right scene for a family with a teenage daughter. We had stayed about 15 minutes, and bailed. I shared the article with my wife, and we made a vow to come back the next year, and clean up the area every morning, no matter what it took, so that the environmentalists could not gain the attention of cleaning up after the pigs. What I learned along the way was a far greater lesson, and spawned friendships that help two people understand opposing views.
In 2006 with the Help of the Pirate4x4.com message board I organized a clean up effort that would ensure we covered each day of the event. Read The Original Thread Here
Volunteers from across the country lent a hand to make sure we stopped the destruction of Potato Salad Hill. On a cool clear Thursday morning, I met Sara Melnicoff, from Moab Solutions, the woman who had tirelessly cleaned up after the 4 wheelers the year before.
Sara was simply blown away, that so many people would come to help her clean the site. My thirteen year old daughter walked with Sara near Mill Creek, and cried to her when she saw the massive amount of broken glass that littered the streamline. Sara promised my Daughter that with this kind of manpower we could accomplish anything, including removing all that glass.
Our group loaded all the trash into Sara’s old pickup, and most of it was recycled. This simpleeffort continues today, seven years later. Except today, there is no glass-lined stream, and the cleanup requires very little effort. For the most part the area is kept clean through a proactive effort, of Rocky Mountain Extreme who donates a dumpster, and portable toilets.
Moab Solutions places Recycle bins, and on occasion I make it a point to surprise Sara on a cool clear morning as we watch the sun dance across the La Sal Mountains. Trash collection now amounts to little more then a handful. Sara and I have a friendly debate about closing Potato Salad Hill, and we exchange contact info and I recede back into the hustle of my daily life.
In 2007 Sara was quoted in the local paper “My Perception Of 4 Wheelers Has Been Shattered” That quote to this day remains one of my greatest accomplishments. It is a reminder that there is nothing we can't change without a little effort, and organization of the right people. It is also a reminder that we all have a different view of what Moab should be. Sharing that view after all is what points out things we might have missed the first time around.
I am still learning from Potato Salad Hill, and this is the lesson I believe it is teaching me next. Where is our outreach? While we have done a great job with a proactive effort to keep the area clean, we have done little to expand on this effort and teach the next generation how fragile our sport truly is. While I believe we are far from the community we might have been 25 years ago, what are we doing to help propagate responsible use of our public lands in areas like Potato Salad Hill where we have a captive audience? What kind of peer pressure are we demonstrating in the areas where popularity generates a crowd? Our we doing the best we can? Are we learning that small groups can make a difference?
Seven Years ago, this area was on the verge of closure. Today it can be an example and an affective tool in education. The question is, are we ready to change the world? Today my children are grown up, and my little girl lives far away attending school in Montana, but every time I go to Moab, she asks me if I plan on picking up trash. I might argue the biggest prize I received from the project was the gift of teaching my children the value of a sunrise, a creek, and a trash bag.
Pictures courtesy of the BLM, and NAXJA Forums.
This article is dedicated to the committed individuals and corporations who have helped keep Moab beautiful. Please visit Moab Solutions for more info on Moab's recycling efforts.