With a white 5-gallon bucket in hand, Debbie Wilkins stands ready to potty-train the public headed for this summer playground.
Starting this weekend, it no longer will be acceptable for campers to leave piles of toilet paper and human waste behind rocks and trees on Kalispell and Bartoo islands.
Instead Wilkins, a recreation forester, wants campers to use a pail and take it with them when they leave. It’s a small price to pay to keep the area pristine, she says.
“We are more worried about people using them to go No. 2 rather than No. 1,” Wilkins explained.
“On a heavy weekend there is toilet paper and stuff all over. It’s disgusting. You have to be careful where you walk,” said Priest Lake Assistant Ranger John Linch as he stood on the sandy beach of Bartoo Island.
“We are hoping this (the buckets) will work a lot better.”
More than 10,000 people visited Bartoo and Kalispell islands last year. This weekend about 500 people will visit the islands. The problem is there’s only one outhouse on Bartoo Island and 10 scattered on Kalispell Island.
“We have too many people concentrated in too small an area and not enough toilets,” Wilkins said.
“Over there is outhouse rock. It’s a favorite spot,” Wilkins said, pointing to the car-sized boulder on Bartoo where campers regularly relieve themselves.
The U.S. Forest Service would need another 30 toilets to handle the increasing number of visitors. But at a cost of about $10,000 for each outhouse, that’s not an option.
To keep campers from spoiling the terrain, Wilkins decided to try a “pack it in, pack it out” plan for human waste.
Campers will be given buckets or asked to bring their own portable toilets to use. When they are ready to leave, they can stop by Kalispell Bay and put the containers in a SCAT (Sanitizing Containers with Alternative Technologies) machine.
The $17,000 gadget is like a big dishwasher. It empties, cleans and sanitizes the containers, then flushes the waste into the sewer system.
The process takes about two minutes and 47 gallons of water.
“I think there are a lot of people willing to try it,” Wilkins said. “Everyone I’ve talked to agrees it’s pretty messy the way it is now.”
The SCAT machine was supposed to be ready this weekend but because of problems with parts it will not be running for another week.
In the meantime, Wilkins said campers with full buckets can take them to the Luby Bay RV dump site.
The ranger district will give out the plastic buckets (lid included) for free. The district has about 300 of them on hand. Users keep the buckets and will have their names, Social Security number or driver’s license number written on the bucket in permanent ink.
“That way we won’t have people abandoning them on Highway 57 when they leave,” Wilkins said.
Crews at Priest Lake already have installed about 20 wooden screens on the islands. The V-shaped plywood blinds allow campers some privacy while they use their bucket.
Wilkins suggests first spraying the inside of the bucket with cooking spray so it can be easily cleaned and adding a chemical (found at many sporting goods stores) that can knock down the odor.
This summer the Forest Service will concentrate on educating the public about the new program.
Rangers and campground hosts, now jokingly referred to as the poop police, will be patrolling areas to make sure campers are complying.
“We are not going to be out there being the Gestapo. We want to work with people,” said Linch. “We would much prefer not to write tickets but if we have to we will.”
The fine for getting caught without a bucket hasn’t been set yet, but Wilkins said it could range from $30 to $100.
“People don’t like human droppings and toilet paper scattered all over the woods and most realize this is something that needs to be done,” said Priest Lake Ranger Kent Dunstan. “This way we can still allow the use of the islands and be environmentally safe and sound.”