Work gloves on, rakes, shovels and hoes at the ready, about 50 civic-minded residents dedicated their Sunday afternoon to cleaning up scores of recently active homeless camps in Overend Mountain Park.
“It’s been epidemic up here, so I thought I could help get it cleaned up,” said Matt Goodson as he cleared garbage from one the former homeless camps.
Before starting, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith handed out yellow flags to volunteers to place in areas where they found intravenous needles or human feces. He warned volunteers not to clear those area, but to mark them with the flags. He also offered precautions about dealing with broken glass.
The Sheriff’s Office and Trails 2000 sponsored the cleanup. The Sheriff’s Office brought along several all-terrain vehicles to get to harder-to-reach areas.
“It’s your job to stay protected. If you don’t like what you see, don’t go near it,” said Steve Ilg of Trails 2000 before volunteers headed into the woods to clean the area.
In the past, Smith said he’s had jail inmates clean homeless camps, but he currently doesn’t have the staffing to bring inmates to the former camps.
“I want to thank all the community members who volunteered to help. This is quite an undertaking,” Smith said. “Some volunteers signed up for an hour, some signed up for four hours. We’re just appreciative of all the community members who came out to help.
In addition to 50 residents of Durango and La Plata County who volunteered, Smith said, seven members of the homeless community now living in the Purple Cliffs area came to help.
At least 23 recently active campsites were in need of cleaning, Smith said. In addition, scores of older, abandoned camps in the hills in an area dubbed “the Test Tracks” by mountain bikers needed to be cleaned.
Scattered around hillsides is common camping equipment – tarps, tents and chairs. Mixed in are random items, such as wall clocks, furniture, old mattresses, bike parts, cigarettes, shoes and other clothing. Human waste is typically found left in buckets or in a dug-out hole with a tarp on top.
The homeless camp in the Purple Cliffs area has dumpsters, trash service and port-a-potties.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep the new camp clean. We don’t want to re-create what happened here, and the campers are committed to keeping a clean camp,” Smith said.
Tim Sargent, a homeless resident now living in the Purple Cliffs, thought cleanup crews had more than an afternoon’s work ahead of them.
“Some people have an addiction, and it’s hard for them to stay clean,” Sargent said. “At the Purple Cliffs, the primary practice will be to keep the camps clean. And, if they aren’t, the community is going to speak to them about why it is so necessary to keep the camps clean. I am glad to see this turnout.”