I've spent many hours on a mountain bike this summer exploring some of the wild places in and around Carson City, an endeavor that has left me with not only a lot of bumps, bruises and scrapes, but an overall impression that this is a spectacular place for those who love the outdoors.
Whether you head west up into the trees or east into the desert pine nuts, you don't have to go far to find solitude, and spots so beautiful they make the short list of special places you can pretend belong to you alone.
But it's hard to completely escape. For one thing, cell phone coverage is remarkably good around here, which is a positive thing, and for another, it's hard to get far from the trash people dump seemingly anyplace they can avoid detection.
Mattresses, old appliances, tires, bags of junk ... it's all there, anyplace a 4x4 can access. Don't get me wrong ... it's not so prevalent that it has to ruin your day. But it's there, always nearby.
And it's not just in wild places. I see the junk in empty city lots, too, apparently dumped there at night by people trying to save a buck.
It's good at least to know that there are lots of people equally as frustrated with the problem, and they include the Kiwanis Club and volunteers who conduct a major cleanup every fall.
That group also includes a state worker who called me a few weeks ago after she was outraged to find one morning someone had dumped their old furniture in an abandoned lot near her work. So outraged that she was hopeful an investigation would reveal who had dumped it there. Maybe someone would recognize the furniture as being from someone they knew. Maybe the white animal hair on the couch would offer a clue.
But after talking to Kevin McCoy, a senior code enforcement officer for Carson City, I found out it's not easy to hold people accountable for illegal dumping. The last conviction was several months ago.
He and another code enforcement officer do their best, but people usually dump the stuff at night, or in remote areas where they escape detection. Sometimes those people drive up to a bridge and just heft the stuff over the side into the water.
Occasionally, McCoy finds evidence of who dumped the trash, but most often they just pick it up or arrange to have it cleaned up by the property owners.
I asked him if he could think of a way to end the problem and he didn't hesitate in his answer: "It's just something that's not going to go away."
Not even if you had an army of people patrolling for illegal dumping. There are just too many places to dump the junk.
The dumping isn't necessarily any worse here than any other place ... he knows other communities are struggling with the same thing.
"It's nationwide," McCoy said.
As to who's doing it, he suggested no stereotype will suffice. It's all kinds. Sometimes it's just what you'd expect ... a person with little cash and no appreciation for nature who just doesn't care. But say, for example, a dad gives his teenager $20 to take a load of junk to the dump ... maybe the kid dumps the trash in a ditch and spends the money on fast food. McCoy's heard that story. And sometimes the trash is left by homeless people who really have no desire or method to get rid of it when they move on.
In at least one area, the trash doesn't have anything to do with illegal dumping. The hilly desert around the city's landfill has as many plastic bags as it does sagebrush, but that's a difficult problem to fix, too. Those bags get blown a long way " sometimes miles " when the wind picks up, and it makes you wonder whether San Francisco has it right in banning them.
McCoy said the illegal dumping isn't getting any worse, but it isn't getting any better, either. Personally, I wonder if it will soon be getting worse as the cost of living increases and people hold tighter to their money. Landfill rates also increased recently as well (although it's still remarkably cheap).
I don't understand why people dump their junk in the midst of paradise. I have a feeling, however, that someday I'll come across someone dumping junk out there in the hills and I'll have to fight the urge to ask them.
The wiser course of action, McCoy emphasized, would be to keep at a distance and get a license plate number and vehicle description. He'll take care of the rest.
The water shortage Carson City announced last week is much better now, and the call for voluntary reductions in water usage is officially over.
The city's water storage had dropped to about 44 percent when it made the call to conserve, but now it's back up to around 60 percent and the city, school district and state are ramping up watering on their parks and grounds again.
Of course, you're welcome to continue conserving water.
And, remember, the city does have people out there looking for violators of the city's water regulations.
The shortage was partly the result of the minimal snowpack and construction on the Marlette Lake water system that supplies a portion of our water supply.
Carson City resident Frank Page called to offer an observation after the stories on the water shortage, namely that one should be careful not to place blame on Carson residents for overusing water. Shortages are largely a function of growth over the years, he said, and the city should be planning for it or doing a better job regulating growth so it does not become a problem.
Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1221.