Environment, Local

During Shutdown, Volunteers Help Keep Chattahoochee Recreation Area Clean

Ruby-Collins CEO David Westrick, left, and project superintendent Andy Cook say the port-a-potties their company voluntarily supplied to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area during the partial government shutdown seemed like a way they could give back.
Ruby-Collins CEO David Westrick, left, and project superintendent Andy Cook say the port-a-potties their company voluntarily supplied to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area during the partial government shutdown seemed like a way they could give back.
Credit Molly Samuel / WABE

The trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area have stayed open during the partial government shutdown, but most of the 35 people who work at the metro Atlanta park are furloughed.

That means they’re not there to unlock bathroom doors or collect the trash – though law enforcement rangers are still on the job. So in the meantime, volunteers have been stepping up to fill in the gaps.

At the Cochran Shoals unit of the recreation area, a popular spot along the river near Cumberland Mall, the bathrooms are locked, but there are four port-a-potties in the parking lot. They were supplied by Ruby-Collins, a Smyrna-based general contractor. The company is doing work in the park, and had been asked to supply port-a-potties anyway, for when they had to turn off the water to the restrooms, but they also decided to bring another two to a different part of the park.

“Seemed like something that would be helpful for all the patrons walking here,” said Andy Cook, who handles the field duties for Ruby Collins in the park.

Cook said so far it’s cost them more than $1,000 to supply the port-a-potties and to get them cleaned every other day, but it’s in line with the company’s philosophy, said Ruby-Collins CEO David Westrick.

“We understand that a lot of things that we do impact the environment. And the more that we can do to help lessen that impact the better we are as a company and as people,” Westrick said.

The pay station at the Cochran Shoals unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is covered up. While park patrons can park for free and access the trails, many of the park’s employees are furloughed and facilities are closed. (Molly Samuel/WABE)

Since the port-a-potties have been there, Westrick said the vendor they use for the port-a-potties has gotten tons of phone calls, and he’s gotten positive feedback on social media. He even received a handwritten note from the head of the park, thanking the company.

There’s also the issue of trash.

Millions of people visit the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, many of them with dogs. Even if they’re all good about not leaving trash or waste on the trails (they’re not), the trash cans can get filled fast.

Rachael Konke, a regular visitor to the park, said she usually picks up trash along the trail when she’s hiking with her dog. She just decided to step it up during the shutdown by emptying the trash cans, too.

“I really wanted to help do something. So I decided the best way to do that was just to start small and take out the garbage,” she said, adding that her dog Glen has been helping by collecting abandoned or lost balls.

Longtime volunteer Bob Bagus said he usually helps clear out downed trees, but the last few weekends, he’s been emptying trash cans.

He’s a volunteer with the park’s friends group, the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy, and said he got inspired to start doing the trash runs after seeing that volunteers were doing similar things at other parks around the country.

“I don’t intend to continue doing all this once they come back to work, but for now it has to be done,” he said.

Other Atlanta-area parks managed by the National Park Service have also been affected by the shutdown.

At Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the main parking lot and visitors’ center are closed, but other parking lots are open and the trails are accessible. According to a volunteer, visitors and the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club have been unofficially helping out with trash there.

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park was closed, but reopened for MLK Day with a grant from Delta Air Lines. The site will stay open through Super Bowl weekend.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the circumstances under which Ruby-Collins, a Smyrna-based general contractor, supplied port-a-potties near the Cochran Shoals unit of the recreation area.