What began as a romantic way to cap off West Coast vacations has led way to an alarming display of environmental disrespect.
A chain-link fence adjacent to Hwy. 4 at Wally Creek has become a museum of sorts, displaying mementos padlocked to the fence by visitors as a way to commemorate their experiences, but those mementos have morphed into litter as visitors have started tying disposable COVID-19 face masks, plastic gloves and other unwanted litter to the site.
Dan and Jessica Rutherford were driving back to their Ucluelet home around 6 p.m. on Aug. 30 when Jessica noticed the fence looked more heavily cluttered than usual.
The couple pulled over to have a look and felt “complete disappointment and shock” to find the fence had been covered with disposable face masks and other garbage, Dan told the Westerly News.
“We just looked at each other and we couldn’t bear to leave it like that, stuff was falling on the ground, so we ended up removing all the masks that we found and some of the other garbage that was on that fence,” he said. “It was really, really disappointing to be honest. I know there’s been locks on there for years and that’s annoying enough because it’s kind of just a silly little thing people start, but people have started to put general garbage on this thing and it’s going to go into the river.”
The couple grabbed gloves, a tarp, a milk crate and hand sanitizer from their vehicle and got to work tidying the area.
“We started pulling off a couple of masks and things like that, but then we just kept going. I put the tarp on the ground and started filling it up with garbage,” he said. “We couldn’t understand why people would be doing this. What is going through people’s heads to attach face masks to a fence? The more people start putting things like that on, it just snowballs. I even picked up a nappy there, it was quite disgusting…What kind of people find it necessary to do this? And, at the same time, they’re having a swim in the river or enjoying the beautiful scenery.”
He said they collected over 100 disposable masks from the site.
“It’s kind of embarrassing really, how people think by putting a face mask on a fence that it’s not going to end up in the river. I don’t understand that,” he said.
He said he drives past the fence weekly and doesn’t normally stop there, but commended Jessica, an environmental scientist, for making the decision to pull over and clean it up.
“I really respect my wife for that, because it really is so easy to just drive past this stuff,” he said. “It definitely looked a lot better when we were done…It felt really good to be honest. Once we were done it, we were both really proud of ourselves. I’m going to do it again. I’m definitely going to remove any garbage like that when I go past. I wish they would consider getting rid of that metal fence and putting a nice wooden fence there where people could enjoy the view, because it’s a great spot to stop and have a swim.”
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly that he shares the Rutherfords’ concerns, but there’s little his council can do as the area falls outside the district’s jurisdiction and is the responsibility of B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“The reality is the ministry has workers on that road everyday, so these kinds of problems that residents are identifying should already be identified by the contractors responsible for road maintenance and safety. This is just another prime example of how the levels of accountability are sometimes questionable,” he said.
A Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson told the Westerly News that the ministry is aware of the situation and is looking into potential signage to deter littering.
“Wally Creek, at the Kennedy Love Locks location, can have dangerously heavy water flows, especially when the river is high. The chain link fence was installed as a safety measure to both limit people from accessing the water and to provide a small platform for people to view the river without danger of falling in. Because the fence is a safety measure, it will remain in place,” the spokesperson said.
“There is no regular litter pick-up at this location, like there would be at a rest area. The ministry will look at installing some no litter signage to remind people not to leave garbage on the fence itself, and in the area. While there is no regular litter removal, the ministry does remove debris once it is over a certain size.”