With the summer months approaching, campers will soon be making their way to Haines. At the same time, residents are drawing attention to the lack of bathrooms at a Mosquito Lake campground. Community members say the issue has led to human waste along the river, and an open hole where state-maintained pit toilets once stood.
“I came down here because I knew there were no outhouse buildings here anymore. So I kind of poked around up here,” says Greg Rasmussen. He lives off of Mosquito Lake Road. He walks through melting snow to the state recreation site.
“So see, somebody built that one there,” says Rasmussen, pointing to an outhouse without walls that was mysteriously constructed recently, some time after the state removed its facilities.
Rasmussen says he noticed a problem last summer – an open hole where pit toilets once stood.
“It had broken down but there was toilet paper, it definitely hadn’t earthed over,” says Rasmussen.
He was considering donating an old outhouse from his nearby property for the facility.
“I had heard that nobody wanted a new hole dug, so use the existing hole. So I went down here and looked at where the old wooden ones were and they were full. And one was covered up with a rotten piece of plywood, the other one was open,” says Rasmussen.
Right now, there’s still too much snow to confirm that the pits are there. And Rasmussen says the issue wasn’t too obvious when the ground was thawed, either.
“It wasn’t messy because it was all grown up with brush,” says Rasmussen. “But once you start looking around you can see a little bit of toilet paper here and there in the weeds. It wasn’t like a big mess but if a kid was wandering around in here he could easily step in that one.”
Southeast Parks Superintendent Mike Eberhardt says the state went into passive management of the Mosquito Lake campground at least ten years ago because of budget cuts.
It’s designated as a state recreation site, which is essentially an unmanaged campground. But campers are no longer charged fees to stay. And, the parks department doesn’t put any money into it. There’s no maintenance or oversight.
But, that doesn’t mean no one is using the facility. Haines area park ranger Travis Russell says he stays there occasionally in the summer, and there are a number of other users as well.
“The other uses out here besides just the locals and the people that come across the border, there’s the winter use,” says Russell. “I know I’ve seen ice fishermen out here with scout troops as well as there’s the snow machine races where they do the speed runs. So there is significant uses. There’s all day events where people are obviously going to need to use the restroom.”
For certain events the bathrooms are opened at the Mosquito Lake School. And, some groups bring their own portable toilets.
Eberhardt says when the state ceased management, they did leave the outhouses. But, they didn’t last.
“The restrooms rotted – not that they were in good condition to start with. Within a couple years they fell over,” says Eberhardt.
At that point, he says the pits should have been filled, sealed and covered. If that wasn’t the case, or that work hasn’t held up over time, Eberhardt says the state would go in and fix it.
And, he says if another entity wanted to put up an outhouse there, the state would be open to that, but they won’t maintain it.
Rich Chapell at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Haines says his department is interested in installing an outhouse if they could secure funding. But, he says maintenance costs could be an issue.
For now, without a bathroom facility, Russell says there are issues with people using the shore as a restroom.
“When I came out here and camped it’s like anywhere there’s bushes – trying to get my kayak out of the water and you’ve got to watch where you step,” says Russell.
The outhouse issue came up at a recent parks and recreation advisory committee meeting. That group said they would contact State Parks to request they install a new outhouse and address any hazards with the old pits.
As far as confirming whether there is an open waste pit out there, we’ll have to wait for the snow to melt.