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October 2017

What is this stuff?

Many years ago GATC proposed a different way to control poop in the Forest. Rather than continue with the headache of outhouses, the Club proposed building moldering privies along the AT in Georgia. Outside of the Club, there was not a lot of support for this idea. In fact, there was considerable opposition, especially from the Forest Service. As my mentor and friend, Gary Monk, preached to any who would listen, “This is not about the convenience of the hiker, but about the protection of the resource.” We know what happens when hikers do not have a functional privy. Toilet paper blooms sprout everywhere. It is gross and unhealthy not to mention the impact on the environment. Darleen Jarman has testified about seemingly endless meetings with the Forest Service at the Regional Office in downtown Atlanta. I have seen the big stack of emails generated as discussion continued on the subject. Finally a compromise was reached and the Forest Service agreed to allow GATC to build the first moldering privy in Georgia. One part of that compromise was that privies in Wilderness areas could not have roofs. This decision was recently reversed by the Forest Service as they acknowledged that GATC was right on that issue. Just this year, roofs were added to wilderness privies. Bit by bit, little by little, the Forest Service has come to the decision that GATC does indeed know what they are doing. We not only care about the Forest and the Trail. We have great skills and experience in carrying out our mission.
About three years ago, GATC embarked on an experiment. A vendor had proposed a biological agent to use in our privies. The promise was that with this product we could stop using wood chips in our privies. Anyone who has ever helped maintain a privy knows that providing a constant supply of chips at a privy is a really big deal. It takes enormous man hours to haul chips to the privies. It is a year round effort to keep the supply ready and available. The Forest Service was willing to work with us in this experiment and even purchased the product, called OpPort, for the initial applications. Several months into the experiment we met to evaluate the results. Although the promises of the vendor were not met, we decided that, with the limited results that we had experienced, the experiment should continue and the application of OpPort was expanded to include additional privies. For all the privies in the experiment, wood chips were added only by the overseer during regular maintenance. This meant a lot less volume in the “pile” and the workload for maintaining a privy was greatly reduced.

A few weeks ago David Stelts reported that at one of our privies, we were having a problem. Some sort of brown liquid was oozing from the side of the bin on the active side onto the ground and the privy was heavily infested with flies. Days later a followup report indicated that other privies had the same problem. The Forest Service was notified. They were also horrified. Staff in the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Gainesville had changed since their management staff had agreed to the experiment. Current management couldn’t understand why we had ever decided to use the product and ordered us to halt the experiment immediately. The following week we met with the Forest Service for our annual planning meeting. Fortunately David Stelts, our privy expert, was at the meeting. He gave a short report on the history of moldering privies in Georgia and included details of the experiment, including the Forest Service’s cooperation. David told them that he had a short-term plan that included kitty litter but that he was still working on a long-term solution. They asked how much time he needed. He told them he should have a solution by the year of the year. Forest Service management staff and technical staff agreed to the plan.

Why? They have the authority to tell us to shut the privies down, wrap them up or burn them if they so desired. But they agreed to give GATC time to develop the best solution to this mess. Why? Because they have learned to respect and trust us. They value our skills, our devotion, and our willingness to put in whatever effort is necessary to get the job done right.

I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful organization. I am thankful that we have such dedicated volunteers like David Stelts who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, really dirty, to solve a problem. Those who know me understand that I always say that there is no more rewarding job in the Club than privy maintenance. Do you agree? Well, have I got a job for you?

Submitted by: Don Hicks