West Coast
Large crowds at Doran Beach regional park in Bodega Bay mean a large bill for garbage removal for the Sonoma County Regional Parks Friday, June 17, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

CA - Tired of the mess: Three North Bay counties to collaborate on coastal Leave No Trace campaign

In 2008, Richard James escaped from Silicon Valley to get closer to nature, moving to Inverness, an unincorporated town on the shoreline near Point Reyes Station. “I moved up here because it's beautiful, and I love it,” James said. “And I think a lot of people come out here because it's beautiful. So, it's really ironic that when people come out to such a beautiful place, and then defile it, and tarnish it.”

The wind-swept Northern California coast, with its dazzling views and biological diversity, has always been a tourism mecca, but that has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic as people looked to escape their homes for the outdoors.

And with the tourism comes trash. And lots of it, according to officials and residents who say they are fed up with the leftover takeout containers, abandoned camping gear and even human waste that litters the coast.

A new effort in Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties hopes to address the issue by educating the public on the seven principles of the Leave No Trace movement, which aims to minimize the human impact on the environment through education, rather than restoration.

Some of those principles include disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife and being considerate of others.

In partnership with the Leave No Trace nonprofit, the counties will create educational resources such as signs, QR codes and digital packages with the guidelines for North Bay tourists. The effort begins later this month.

“In the past, our park signs have been kind of focused just on the rules,” said Meda Freeman, a spokesperson for the Regional Parks Service. “Please do this. Don't do that.”

But Leave No Trace’s expertise is really on how you can tell the public more about what you're asking for and why, she said.

The projected expense for Sonoma County is $10,000 to support the cost of advertising, graphic design services, partnership contributions and more, Freeman said.

Two federally recognized tribes, the Graton Rancheria and the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, are also supporting their efforts, citing their shared goal of protecting the coasts which their ancestors once called home, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by the counties.

Also in the memorandum, the three counties committed to “significantly” reducing coastal trash by July 1, 2027, though did not set specific goals.

Trash ‘everywhere’

In Sonoma County, almost 39,000 pounds of trash were collected in the most recent California Coastal Cleanup Day, according to a Coastwalk report.

In Marin County, an average of 11,522 pounds of coastal trash is picked up every year and 3,052 pounds of trash in Mendocino County.

More than 24 trillion pounds of plastic are dumped into oceans ever year, according to a 2020 study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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