My beloved local lake haunt is Foy’s – ridiculously close to Kalispell, vividly teal and cerulean colored come summer for a swim or a SUP, and in winter, good ice for skating or Nordic skiing. Valley-wide, it’s a popular spot for families, ice fishermen, hockey players, paddlers, and individuals sitting in the sun, playing fetch with their lake-happy dogs. What’s troubling for the local gem is how much it gets trashed. Literal trash. Many people may enjoy the lake with its two state park areas, but a lot of people are tossing their garbage, broken glass bottles and dog waste along the shoreline.
Every single time I access Foy’s from the fishing access site, I find more trash than I can believe and wonder how many bare feet are cut from the glass shards along the pebbled shoreline, along with frankly disgusting bits of food wrappers, beer cans, and toilet paper. Why is such a beautiful place treated so poorly? Why do certain individuals litter, eschewing common decency to take home their wrappers or empty cans? It’s disheartening to see a public park – owned by all Montanans – receive such misuse.
Even in the winter, the park gets beat up. On New Year’s Day, I took advantage of the solid ice and ventured with my skates to kick off 2024 only to discover the entrails of fireworks, from the plastic packaging tossed carelessly into the shrubs along the banks to the remnants of the explosive shells and even more troubling, burned and melted cans of spray paint that truly must have emitted a fiery toxic plume. Added to the collection of trash was the almost quintessential collage of discarded alcoholic beverage cans, which tends to go hand in hand with such behavior but doesn’t provide immunity.
Pride for our natural landscapes and our abundance of public land access is a strong cultural current for Montanans, from widespread political polling to how many of us structure our days around trail or mountain top, but it’s unsettling to see the disconnect in a land use ethic. If we love our lakes, rivers, and trails then why do we toss our trash as if the smashed beer bottle or empty potato chip bag are part and parcel? Is Foy’s doomed because of its proximity to town, demoting it as a beautiful or protected landscape that Glacier or the Bob earns?
I’ve long heard that it’s tourists who don’t know how to behave in wild places, who perform unsavory acts whether it’s discarding used toilet paper along the lake or trying to pet wild animals, but from my weekly observations of what transpires at Foy’s Lake, the trash isn’t the byproduct of tourism. Locals, especially during midweek in January, aren’t being responsible or even, honestly, baseline respectful of their environment or their neighbors, the families, and fishermen who use the area.
A trash sack accompanies me when I head to Foy’s so I can collect the unseeingly refuse, and when I utter some bitter remark, I think of an acquainted I met last summer, a long-retired teacher and outdoor educator, who proposed the idea that with every driver’s license or conservation tag issued, a lesson – one that really should be obvious – on how not to leave your garbage at parks. A lesson in land ethics and basic manners, essentially. Sadly, it’s not obvious. Until there’s such a mandate, I will try to keep the excess garbage contained and hope that litterbugs see the errors of their ways.
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