PITTSBURG — George McAdams has gone fishing at Whitmore Pits, located at the Mined Land Wildlife Area (MLWA) just a few miles west of Pittsburg, for more than 60 years. McAdams still visits Whitmore Pits regularly, about three or more times per month, he says, but in recent years he has been dismayed to see garbage frequently dumped in the area.
“I used to fish out there as a kid with my dad,” McAdams said. “You didn’t have that stuff out there then.”
McAdams, who was born in Pittsburg but now lives in Arma after retiring from working as a meat cutter at Gene's Heartland Foods in Fort Scott, said trash dumping is a problem that not only creates additional work for the small number of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) staff who have to maintain the MLWA, but also affects visitors who use the area for outdoor activities.
“Who wants to go, you know, have an outing with your family and have all that trash around there?” he said.
McAdams pointed out that there are legal ways of disposing of trash, including large items like couches and mattresses.
A City of Pittsburg employee answering the phone at City Hall on Friday said she lives near one of the KDWPT wildlife areas and she sees a lot of trash dumped there, and it’s disgusting. The worst case she has seen, she said, was when someone dumped a dead cow in the MLWA. She recommended taking bulky items to the Southeast Kansas Recycling Center, 615 S. Joplin St, Pittsburg, which accepts furniture drop offs on the second Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Although the recycling center does not take dead livestock, they do take a lot of items,” she said.
The monthly furniture drop off at the SEK Recycling Center is free for Crawford County residents, and the center accepts “couches, chairs, tables, mattresses, box springs, and appliances,” according to its website, which also notes SEK Recycling does not accept yard waste, trash or carpet.
Also on the second Saturday of each month, Pittsburg residents can drop off tree limbs and brush from 8 a.m. to noon at the Pittsburg Burn Site, located 1.5 miles East of Rouse on Quincy Street. Household trash, landscape timbers, and other items are not accepted, however. Another option for disposing of large items is the Oak Grove Landfill in Arcadia.
McAdams said those who fail to dispose of their trash appropriately and instead dump it in the wildlife areas are simply lazy.
“So they just take it out there and throw it and then they burn it and it makes a mess out there,” he said.
“They’re just too lazy or too cheap to do it, so they just take it out there and dump it and then we’ll have to pay for it sooner or later, you know, if not through taxes and stuff like that, we’ll have to pay for it because they’ll shut the whole thing down and there we’ll be.”
McAdams’s concern that the wildlife area could be closed to public access because of trash dumping may not be entirely unfounded.
“Every now and then they’ve got to go in and clean that junk up,” he said, “and they’re going to get tired of it.”
Reached by phone Thursday, David Jenkins, public lands manager for the MLWA, certainly sounded tired of cleaning up trash dumped in the wildlife areas, which he said is a major problem for the small number of KDWPT staff responsible for thousands of acres of state land.
“It’s constant,” Jenkins said.
Over the years, KDWPT has written some tickets and caught some offenders, but trash dumping continues.
“The areas near Pittsburg, I guess being close to town, continue to be a problem,” Jenkins said, adding that several parts of the MLWA near Pittsburg are closed between Oct. 1 and Mar. 1 annually, which helps prevent some of the trash dumping. “The Whitmore area is definitely a problem,” however, he said.
“We’re probably going to have to install another gate near the entrance to (MLWA) Units 7 and 8 (where the Whitmore Pits fishing area is located) until we get a handle on the trash dumping,” Jenkins said. “It wouldn’t be completely closed off, just until we get a handle on the problem.”
In particular, at Whitmore Pits, “we seem to get a lot of furniture out there,” Jenkins said, adding that he didn’t know if it might be a property owner or maintenance person who dumps items cleared out of rental properties at the MLWA. “It’s kind of weird,” he said.
Jenkins said KDWPT is looking into possibly hiring additional part time law enforcement officers to patrol areas where dumping is a problem near Pittsburg, or other means of enforcing restrictions on dumping garbage at the MLWA.
In just the past week, Jenkins said, he had to remove couches and overstuffed chairs from the Whitmore Pits area.
“It’s just unfortunate because we try to provide an aesthetic wildlife area for people to enjoy,” Jenkins said. If he wasn’t having to clean up garbage dumped at the MLWA, he would be working on outreach programs, habitat work, infrastructure projects such as roads that allow vehicle access to the MLWA, and hunter education, he said.
“We have a lot of other responsibilities,” Jenkins said, “but unfortunately we spend a lot of our time picking up trash.”
McAdams said that, having fished at Whitmore Pits for decades, he does not want to see public access to the area limited.
“I used to go out there when I was a little guy with my dad. So I don’t want to see it shut down, but you know, I don’t want to see that crap out there either,” he said. “It just pisses me off, that’s all.”