Hit the Road

Volunteer vacations keep treasured lake trash-free

The first-ever Temecula Valley Fair promises fun for all ages with competition, fair food, rides and entertainment. It runs March 27 to March 29 at Lake Skinner Recreational Park. Courtesy photosVolunteers pick up trash in 2014 at Padre Bay on Lake Powell, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.Volunteer Trash Trackers at Lake Powell bring in their weekly haul of garbage to a barge for removal. The refuse is picked up by the U.S. National Park Service.Volunteers with Trash Trackers, who clean the 1,960 miles of Lake Powell’s shoreline, stay on houseboats for five to seven days. The boats are donated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas.

Most people wouldn’t consider spending their hard-earned vacation picking up trash, but Tiffany Mapel is thrilled to be doing just that. She and other volunteers called Trash Trackers spend a week every year scouring the shores of Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (in Arizona and Utah), hauling out the trash that inconsiderate tourists have left behind.

Each year, about 100 people participate in weekly shifts, sweeping the 1,960 miles of Lake Powell’s shoreline. They spend the time aboard a houseboat.

“I’ve been going to Lake Powell since 1984 — first with my family aboard our old sailboat,” said Mapel, a Durango, Colorado, teacher. “I started volunteering with Trash Trackers in 2002 and have done it every year since then, except for 2006, when my daughter was born. I’ve always loved Lake Powell and looked for any excuse to go there.”

“Voluntourism” appears to be a growing trend.

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, more than 55 million Americans have participated in a volunteer vacation, and about 100 million more are thinking of doing so. Trash Trackers bring their food and pay travel expenses, but there are no other fees. The houseboats are donated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas.

“We cover a lot of ground, not just the shoreline,” Mapel said. “We get into the backs of canyons where the old water level used to be. It’s like a treasure hunt to see what you can find.”

And what do they find?

Besides the usual picnic litter, volunteers have hauled out a swamp cooler, a dive tank, car batteries, bowling balls, sunken boats and parts of an airplane from a crash, explained Kelly Zwierzchowski, General Manager of Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas.

And sometimes the group even discovers sunken boats too large to remove. So the workers document locations and wait for someone with a winch or a barge to retrieve it.

In the last 21 years, Zwierzchowski said, “Trash Tracker volunteers have picked up over 1.2 million pounds of trash. In 2014, over 78 people participated and spent over 2,300 hours collecting over 800 bags of trash. On average, 50,000 pounds of trash is picked up each year.”

Yes, it’s hard work, admitted Mapel, “but …we get back into some pretty spectacular canyons. There are arches, waterfalls, ruins and other surprises — a herd of desert bighorn sheep, a covey of Chukar quail … ”

And, she added, “it feels good to give back to the lake I love by keeping it clean. Every little bit helps.”

Even better would be to eliminate the need for cleaning up after thoughtless visitors.

“If everyone packed out what they packed in, then we wouldn’t need Trash Trackers,” Mapel said. “I hope more and more people understand what it means to enjoy our public lands and waterways, but also to be stewards of our national parks and wilderness areas.”

Falling water levels on Lake Powell have exposed a lot of trash.

“The wind and fluctuating water level will always uncover it,” Mapel explained.

Other examples of voluntourism include restoration projects in the Olympic National Forest in Washington State and the Pink Ribbon Riders, snowmobile riders who raise money for those with breast cancer.

Trash Trackers is a co-operative effort between the National Park Service (NPS) and Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas.

Trips April to November are limited to four volunteers and are booked on a first-come, first-served basis.

Visit lakepowell.com/discover/green-thread.aspx.

Family fun set for Temecula

The first ever Temecula Valley Family Fair makes its appearance March 27 to March 29 at Lake Skinner Recreational Park, 37701 Warren Road, Winchester.

Organizers promise fair food, activities and competitions for all ages, more than 20 rides, and headline entertainment.

This includes country singers Randy Houser and Tommy Dalton who perform at 5:30 pm March 27; and singer Becky G, who performs at 7:45 pm March 28.

Tickets are $32.50 and include entrance to the fair. The Peter Furler Band performs at a free concert at 6 p.m. March 29.

For fair and concert tickets and information about entering competitions, visit TVFamilyFair.com.

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com