Talking Trash – A Letter to Visitors

Dear visitors,
I am the coordinator at the Manzanita Visitors Center. I love my job for many reasons, chief of which is that I get to interact with travelers from everywhere around the country and the world. I am proud to be an ambassador for my community and I often feel that in some small way, I have contributed to someone’s happiness. Tourism isn’t perfect, far from it. I’ll be the first to admit to muttering profanity when I can’t park where I want or get into my favorite restaurant on a summer weekend. But it’s a balance and big summer crowds generally mean that my friends and neighbors who run small businesses are thriving. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Then came 2020.

I’m not sure what switch was flipped or if there was a secret meeting that I wasn’t made aware of. But seemingly overnight, our beautiful beaches, parks, trails and highway shoulders have become a dumping ground. I appreciate that visitors are bringing lots of supplies with them so as not to overwhelm local services and to remain within guidelines of social distancing as much as possible.
But I am not exaggerating when I say it is now more common to find a dirty diaper on the beach than a sand dollar. It’s not hyperbole when I tell you that seeing used toilet paper beside a trail is more common than spotting a squirrel. Used face masks and sanitizing wipes are clogging city sewer systems and graffiti is suddenly appearing on street signs, trees and rocks. Public works crews set aside important city projects to keep up with trash disposal. State park rangers, already overwhelmed and short-staffed due to budget shortfalls, spend the majority of their time dealing with trash. I have seen entire bags of garbage left on the beach and casually strewn along roads. The list of what we find goes on and on: cigarette butts, plastic containers, beer bottles, pizza boxes, beach toys, furniture, electronics, clothing. As crazy as it sounds, it’s starting to feel like many visitors are coming here just to dump trash they’ve been hoarding at home. There’s a certain vindictiveness about it.

I suspect that many of you reading this right now are declaring “Well, I’ve never done that!” I’m glad to hear that, I truly am. But that means that YOU are the ones that we need help from. Help us spread the word, help us educate, help us kindly inform other travelers leaving trash behind is unacceptable. At the Manzanita Visitors Center, I can put out pleas and messaging on kindness and responsible behavior until I am blue in the face. But nothing will change until the regular, everyday visitor takes on an active stewardship role. To paraphrase a certain web-slinging superhero: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The Oregon Coast is a beautiful place, making it a destination. It is also people’s home, people who are angry and heartbroken to see the place they live being treated like one, long frat party from hell.
Truthfully, it has become a struggle to clean up after you. We are struggling to make you understand this. We are struggling to make you care.

Visitors, we need you to change your behavior or that of someone you know. I desperately want to believe that you can.

Dan Haag
Manzanita Visitors Center