By Tom Hubka
WesCom Wire Service
SISKIYOU NATIONAL FOREST Peering through the windshield of his truck, Ed Gross sighed as the heap of junk grew larger as he drove down the road.
"Son of a gun!" he said. "This is a new one to me. I didn't even know about it."
About 8 miles up Winchuck River Road, the pile of garbage on the shoulder resembled a thrift store after a tornado: clothes, toys, appliances, old cars, storage equipment.
Fresh tire tracks in the mud showed how the vehicle backed up, dumped the garbage and sped off. It's happening all the time in Curry County's .
Gross, along with friends Harve Timeus and Jerry Darbyshire, recently applied for and received a $24,000 federal grant they will use to find these illegal dump sites and clean them up.
"We feel it's a fairly serious problem," Timeus said. "There are resource concerns other than the fact that it's a national forest."
The three men have some 90 years of combined experience with the National Forest Service. They have seen firsthand the problem of people dumping everything from trash to trucks.
"The garbage isn't new, but the ability to remove it is," Darbyshire said.
Added Timeus, "We've all had an interest in this, and there has never been an avenue."
The money was approved in September by the Siskiyou Resource Advisory Committee.
The committee determines which Title II dollars of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 go to projects benefiting national forests. The money should be available to the group in April.
The project's two main aims are locating dump sites, which the men say litter the forests, and then removing the trash.
The three have partnered with Curry Transfer and Recycling, which is giving the project a 15-percent discount.
The grant money will most likely go to CTR for services the three men and their volunteers can't provide, such as removing garbage when it isn't safe or feasible for volunteers to do so.
"Most of the money is for removal costs," Timeus said. "Dumping fees as well."
The project is not paying anybody a wage, Gross said, and its success will rely heavily on the community support it receives.
"It will depend on how well we do in organizing it," Darbyshire said.
While the dump sites may be an eyesore, they are also dangerous to the surrounding forest and the people in it.
Darbyshire said dump sites can contain environmental waste and other hazardous materials that kill surrounding vegetation and could harm people in the area.
"People could get into something dangerous," he said.
And people would be exposed to an alarmingly large variety of abandoned junk. The three men have found leaking car batteries, old wire and even materials used for making meth.
"Garbage in any form is detrimental to the human and natural environment. Period," Timeus said.
People also should be taking ownership of these forests.
"You wouldn't want people dumping stuff in your yard, would you?" Darbyshire said.
"These places provide things like habitats and watersheds," Gross said. "We don't (dump) on farmland like that. Why the forest?"
CTR General Manager Pete Smart said there are better ways to dispose of old vehicles and trash.
"If (people) want to get rid of garbage, I think one plan would be to get in touch with our office," Smart said. "We'll go look at the situation and recommend some kind of clean-up."
As for cars, at least one local auto shop, 1010 Custom Detail and Express Towing, will recycle old cars for free.
"It's a wonderful thing because the price of metal is up," Smart said. "It doesn't make sense to go into the woods and throw (a vehicle) away when you can get rid of it for free."
The clean-up should take place in the summer, Gross said. Issues like safety equipment, duties and schedules will be hammered out as the project continues to be planned.
For now, they need volunteers.
"The more volunteers we have, the less money we spend," Timeus said. "That means the money will go further."