A sign posted in Cornwall Park along the trail reminding visitors to clean up after their dogs. // Photo by Izzy Shelton-Smith
A small group of Bellingham community members prepared to go clean Cornwall Park on June 9. Even with the threat of rain, volunteers were dedicated to the cause and getting the park clean.
Throughout the city of Bellingham, the Parks Volunteer Program has been hosting a park clean up project specializing in cleaning up after dog waste.
We Scoop, a program born from the goal to eliminate dog waste in Bellingham’s parks, also seeks to help educate people about the benefits of scooping every time.
Since the program started in April, the We Scoop ‘Poop Patrol’ has collected over 600 piles of poop from the eight parks they have serviced.
The Parks Volunteer Program launched this project after the city council identified dog waste as an issue that needed to be kept under control.
“All of our creeks in all of Bellingham, you could not theoretically drink out of any single one of those creeks [because] they all have a measurement of higher-than-zero of fecal coliforms in the creek,” Kirsten Boesen, restoration educator for the City of Bellingham, said.
The national standard measurement for water to be drinkable has to be zero Boesen said.
Through We Scoop, Boesen believes that Bellingham residents can become educated about the dangers of leaving their dog poop behind, and how easy it can be to clean up after a pet with the free bags offered by the parks operation all around the city of Bellingham, according to Boesen.
The bags are restocked by volunteers, but with limited funding, there can’t be bag and bin stations everywhere in the park where dog walkers want them, Boesen said. This is where much of the abandoned dog waste comes from.
Boesen said she and her team need to be very strategic in where they put the trash cans because of this limit.
“It’s very much a pack system in certain parts,” Boesen said. “Just be a good citizen, you have a dog, this is the spot you got to pack it out.”
Many dog owners either leave their dog waste because it’s too far out of their way, there’s no trash can, or they don’t have a bag. Some of the time they even bag it, but leave the bag hidden or in the open which isn’t a solution either, Boesen said.
Undergraduate students Ben Nelson and Logan Warriner arrived at the event eager to clean the park, both having done one previous We Scoop park event as well as many other park clean-up and restoration projects in the past.
“Dog poop, or whatever else you bring into the park, litter or otherwise, isn’t naturally occurring in that environment,” Nelson said. “So, it’s got to be taken out or it’s going to contaminate and leak into other environments.”
The volunteers at the We Scoop events are instructed to only pick up the dog waste and leave other animal poop, as Nelson said—what is “naturally occurring” is left alone.
According to Boesen there are around 20,000 dogs in the city of Bellingham, creating 15,000 pounds of poop a day.
Poop Scooping veterans, Chris Camp and Sharon Belk-Krebs, also came to the Cornwall Park We Scoop event. The two have attended every We Scoop event they could, and previously scooped with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.
With gloves already on, big grocery bags filled with other plastic bags attached to their fanny packs and dog T-shirts on, Belk-Krebs and Camp are passionate about keeping the parks clean from dog waste.
The two used to be a part of a similar organization to We Scoop called Grateful Dog. Which would teach poop education, off-leash etiquette and what to do if dogs get into an altercation.
“It was mostly to educate you to control your dogs, be mindful of your dogs, pick up after your dog when you’re at an off-leash park,” Camp said. “We used to advocate for off-leash dog parks. Which we got Squalicum that way and Bloedel.”
While Grateful Dog is winding down with the founding and other members reaching their 80s, unable to walk around the parks the same as they used to Camp and Belk-Krebs continued to clean local parks on their own.
“[Camp] and I go once a month to [Sqaulicum and Bloedel] on our own,” Belk-Krebs said. “Grateful Dog started doing that and she and I were the ones who kind of kept doing it.”
Even though Camp says she “gags really easy” she has been picking up poop in the parks for 15 years now.
“Somebody has to do it,” Camp said. “So we get access to the parks, so people with dogs get access to the parks and can let them off leash.”
The next We Scoop volunteer event will be held at Fairhaven Park on July 23 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Correction: the headline for this story has been corrected from “civil” to “civic”