Dealing with people who use streets and other people’s yards as their personal toilets is something Valerie Coleman said she never would have imagined in her wildest dreams.
“People pull right in, and they will stop right on the street and go to the bathroom,” she said. “They don’t even hide in the trees.”
Coleman, who is originally from Seattle, has been living in Greenwater for 22 years. She is just one of the many residents living in unincorporated East Pierce County who have been expressing the need for additional public restrooms in the area.
Greenwater, which is about 20 miles east of Enumclaw, sits on state Route 410. The route leads to popular attractions like Mount Rainier National Park and Crystal Mountain Resort.
Resident Joni Sensel describes Greenwater as a “recreation portal.” For the past two years, local businesses have not been able to keep up with the demand for restrooms as the number of visitors increased, she said.
“We’ve had much more summertime road traffic than normal because people can’t fly on vacations … but the public restroom opportunities up here are really limited,” Sensel said.
Karlyn Clark owns Wapiti Outdoors, one of the local businesses in Greenwater. Her store offers restrooms for customers; one inside the store and two porta-potties outside, she wrote in an email.
“We have done this for many years … even if the state puts in rest areas along SR 410, I will still need to provide them,” Clark wrote in an email. “The problem is just that there are many people out here now.”
Clark said populations in Enumclaw and other East Pierce County communities have been growing, attracting more traffic to Greenwater. The COVID-19 pandemic also made people “hungry to get out,” she wrote in an email.
“Due to the lack of public facilities up here, travelers are having to resort to stopping wherever they can find a spot to go, and sometimes that means using someone’s private yard,” Clark wrote in an email.
Sensel said when she visits the water pump house in Greenwater, she would sometimes stumble on piles of human waste and toilet paper. Other residents have also “caught people in the act,” she said.
“There are a number of road pull-offs and trailheads here that have become sort of hazardous because if you get out of your car, you never know if you’re going to step in a pile of human waste,” Sensel said.
Greenwater resident Wendy Scholl said when she took her dogs out for a walk on Saturday, July 31, she saw human feces with toilet paper near a gate on Crystal River Ranch Road.
“They didn’t even go off to the side. They probably just pulled their vehicle up, turned it around and then squatted behind the car,” Scholl said. “This is the kind of thing that’s just unbelievable.”
Sensel said residents have reached out to state Sen. Phil Fortunato, R- Auburn, as well as the state Department of Transportation with the hopes of finding a short- and long-term solution.
One short-term solution involves placing two additional porta-potties for the summer, Sensel said. In terms of a long-term solution, they hope to start planning for a permanent rest stop near milepost 49 on Route 410.
The News Tribune contacted DOT officials for comment on this story. In response, they forwarded emails the agency sent to Fortunato last month.
In an email sent to Fortunato, WSDOT officials said the agency would work with the U.S. Forest Service to improve signs for visitors so they can be directed to public bathrooms that already exist near Greenwater.
WSDOT, with the Forest Service, would also consider improving or adding more restroom facilities in the area. But WSDOT said its ability to add and operate more restrooms is “severely hindered” by its budget.
Traffic safety, security and lighting must be considered if WSDOT added porta-potties to Greenwater, WSDOT officials said. The agency has limited funds and would not have the staff to maintain the porta-potties.
“I appreciate the budget concerns, but this is also a public health issue and not something that can just be ignored indefinitely,” Sensel said.
In the meantime, Sensel said they are in the process of creating a map for visitors, pinpointing where public restrooms can be found, like the Dalles and Buck Creek campgrounds. The map will also showcase “no-poop zones,” which include residential houses and the pumphouse.
“We’re trying to use a little bit of humor … and also let people know we are kind of watching,” Sensel said. “Don’t pick somebody’s yard.”
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