Sunday, August 15, 2010
Bull Creek BullSh*t
I'm just getting around to looking at stuff people have recommended I read. Right before I left town, Johnny showed me an article from the Austin American-Statesman by Ricardo Gandara about the recent trashification of Bull Creek Park, which used to be Roma's other favorite park. We would go there regularly for some splashy fun and hiking. I have many happy memories of that park, but we had to stop going when it was clear that the old girl couldn't handle the terrain. (Hmm. Honestly, the last time I took her and Muzzy was an ordeal. When I let both dogs off leash, they ran in opposite directions. Muzzy was afraid of water, yet she charged up and down the creek's edge to bark hysterically at dogs playing in the stream. Meanwhile Roma had hauled arthritic bones to the top of a picnic table and was eating scraps. My cries fell on her actual deaf ears. I swore I would never take the pair of them back to the park again. Still, rather than leave Roma at home, we just quit going.)
Anyway, the article, published July 28, reminded me that the park, which was largely leash-free for many years, changed its rules last December and now requires all dogs to be on leash. The reason for the new rule was a dangerous increase of fecal bacteria in the creek, allegedly caused by too much dog poop and not enough pick up. The waters are much cleaner now with the leash rule in place (although I hear from some Dog Parkers that it is rarely enforced), but the current problem is trash.
The article documents the kinds of garbage strewn around the park--empty beer cans, cigarette cartons and butts, food wrappers, dirty diapers, and used charcoal. One regular visitor to the park told the reporter that he had witnessed people relieving themselves the bushes and even driving their cars into the creek to wash them. Two groups actually get blamed in the article for the park's trash problem. One, of course, is the City. Austin Parks and Recreation Department is so understaffed that crews can only empty the trash cans once every other day, and the cops are slow to respond to non-emergency calls. (Really?) The other group, amazingly, includes the dog-friendly volunteer organizations that once helped maintain the park. The Bull Creek Dog Off-Leash Group and the Bull Creek Foundation both used to participate in regular clean ups and park landscaping efforts. But both groups felt alienated by the City's decision to revoke the leash-free status and its refusal to compromise on the issue. As a result, both groups stopped coming to and caring for the park. Hence, the increase in trash. The director of Parks and Rec and an Austin police officer told the reporter that the park will become a higher priority for patrols, but they also pointed out that trash itself isn't crime. The article ended with a park visitor's rhetorical question, "How simple is it to pick up after yourself?" I think what he meant to ask is "How hard is it to pick up after yourself?" Answer: It isn't, if you're not an inconsiderate and lazy cuss.
I think it's interesting that dogs and their dog owners get blamed for both problems at Bull Creek Park. I get that the E. coli problem was linked to the dogs. Bull Creek park slopes downward. Anything not picked up at the top of the hill will eventually get washed into the creek. But to blame the dogs and their owners for not picking up trash they didn't make in the first place is kind of ridiculous. Many dollars have been spent recently on campaigns to get people to pick up dog waste. Have they worked? I haven't read any statistics, but I've certainly appreciated and used the bag dispensers and nearby trash cans at Turkey Creek and Red Bud Isle. But I think people may have forgotten that the motto "Don't mess with Texas" originally referred to trash, not to political beliefs or tax laws. How do you get picnickers and other park users to pick up their own waste? Would printing cute and informative ads and dispensing colorful, personalized garbage bags help? How a campaign with huge signs that simply say, "Hey, dumb*ss! We've driven away the dogs and cleaned up the water, now pick up your damn trash!"?