Couches overgrown with moss, shattered televisions, kitchen appliances and a broken foosball table are a small sampling of the contents of an illegal dumping site on Pullman’s College Hill.
The Petry Natural Area, a small stretch of woodland that lies along Missouri Flat Creek near North Grand Avenue, appears to have become an unofficial landfill for some residents. A steep hill on the east side of the narrow natural area slopes away from nearby apartments on Maple Street Extension and is littered with broken glass and debris, including items of surprising size. Some of the garbage was caught in the upper limbs of trees – seemingly coming from residents tossing garbage from overhanging balconies.
Joseph Kremer, a nearby resident, said he stumbled on the mess while trying to pick up his neighborhood on Earth Day. Kremer said the garbage was initially strewn all over the hill. He said what started as a sincere cleanup effort became too overwhelming to be handled by a single person, so he gathered all the trash into large garbage mounds.
“I just went wandering the other day on Sunday, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God;’ I just found so much,” Kremer said. “This was my wild surprise on Earth Day.”
Coincidentally, Kremer is an environmental sociologist who teaches for Spokane Falls Community College in Pullman. He said while the issues he studies are usually on a much larger scale, the problem is not unfamiliar.
“It’s kind of what we call the tragedy of the commons in environmental sociology,” Kremer said. “(It’s) the area that nobody takes care of that’s nobody’s responsibility that then gets basically run down to the point of terribleness for everybody.”
Pullman Parks Superintendent Alan Davis said the city is aware of the issue and has led cleanup efforts in the past.
“That hillside has been an issue with the city ever since the apartments went in,” Davis said. “The bulk of some of it, especially out there by Outlook Apartments, comes off the back of private property and seems to accumulate on city property.”
Davis said with so many access difficulties at the site and residents continuing to pollute, cleanup has been slow to gain traction. Part of the problem, Davis said, is some of the worst trash buildup is on some of the toughest terrain.
“There’s no good spot to access it – it’s gotta all be hand-carted down the hill,” Davis said.
Kremer said with spring underway, the coming greenery will do an admirable job of masking the problem from public view. He said even living next door, he didn’t notice the scope of the issue until the trees became bare. While it’s an issue that strikes close to home for him, Kremer said it’s just a bit too much for one person to handle. If there are renewed efforts to clean up the site, however, he said he would be happy to volunteer his time.
“I don’t know what we can do, but I’m always willing to help,” Kremer said. “I’m not just here to point (it) out, I’m saying I’m willing to just do whatever it takes to help us clean this up.”
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