TELLER COUNTY — Besides impacting jobs, businesses, and so many other aspects of daily life, COVID-19 is also taking a toll on the cleanup of public lands.
The nonprofit organization Focus on the Forest does large-scale trash pickups and is still waiting for the all-clear to get volunteers back together to sweep areas that are full of waste. The group usually has 100 to 200 people at its cleanup events, but due to COVID-19 restrictions those large group gatherings can't happen right now and we're told it's seriously impacting the efficiency of keeping public lands free from trash.
Shawn Nielsen, co-founder & director of Focus on the Forest, said, "If it doesn't get better, if we don't get released for this, it's going to go back the way it was before we started."
It was about three-and-a half years ago when Nielsen co-founded the organization with the goal of cleaning up trash from national forests and other public lands in Colorado.
He said, "We've done over 300,000 pounds in three-and-a-half years."
It's a huge amount of progress made and something he doesn't want to see slip away. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions Nielsen said, "It's really shut our program down and as people still go out into the forest the trash is still going to start building up again."
He shared that there are still cleanups going on and that "all of our group is still out doing this in very small family groups."
However, the amount of trash getting picked up is nowhere near to normal numbers.
The group has submitted updated safety protocols to Pike National Forest. Nielsen said, "Social distancing would have to be the length of...two trash grabbers away from each other, no more than 10 in a site and people would go specifically straight to the site."
The hope is to do a big cleanup at Gold Camp Road on June 12.
Nielsen said, "The Forest Service is really, really pushing to make this happen, but again, as long as the rules are in place their hands are tied...we're all just aching to get out there and get this done."
Nielsen is encouraging everyone who is out exploring, whether it be camping or hiking, to please pick up trash if you come across it.