PUEBLO COUNTY, Colorado — The park manager at Lake Pueblo State Park shared a popular photo on social media showing the dozens of damaged and discarded pop-up tent frames filling a roll away dumpster. The park's characteristic winds led to several jokes about the park being a place where good tents go to die.
"It's kind of a funny story, but there's actually a deeper issue behind it," said park manager Monique Mullis.
That deeper issue is the growing amount of litter showing up in the park. During the fiscal year that just ended June 30, the park set an attendance record of more than 2.8 million visitors. Roughly 400,000 people frequented the park during June alone. The larger crowds put extra pressure on park services.
Mullis compared it to the increase in personal expenses individuals have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Your utilities go up, your trash goes up; well that happens at the park level as well," she said. "But our trash bill is more like $5,000 or $6,000 a month, meaning we're paying a good $30,000 to 40,000 a year for trash."
The litter is most noticeable on Mondays after a busy weekend. However, many people in Southern Colorado love the lake and volunteer to keep it clean. Mullis said a group filled 20 large trash bags with litter gathered along the south shore on Wednesday. The volunteers did such a good job that members of the Houghton and Hunt families who were visiting from El Paso and Teller Counties couldn't tell there was ever an issue.
"Today, we didn't see hardly any. And in years past, yes," said Gene Houghton.
"We showed up this morning and there's nothing on the beach, there's no litter," added Bill Hunt.
Mullis recently hired a new employee to manage the litter control at the park. Around 80 dumpsters are placed throughout the property to help keep the litter down. However, those facilities can fill quickly during busy weekends. So, she encourages guests to pack out their trash out with them as they leave.
"If you brought it in, take it out," Mullis said.
Colorado State Parks don't receive operational funds from taxes. Much of their revenue is generated by fees. Mullis said if the litter continues to be a problem, she may have to consider increasing fees to help offset the cost.