This Washington Post article is a follow up to an OpEd I wrote for the Bethesda Gazette earlier this month. That OpEd can be found at the bottom of this blog post. Yesterday I posted a response from the MoCo Park people. I appreciate their response, but replied that they should leave "half or a quarter" of the bathrooms on the trail 365 days a year.
Runners Bemoan Removal of Toilets From Rock Creek Trail
The Washington Post - January 29, 2009; Page GZ05
By Bradford Pearson
Gazette Staff Writer
Almost every morning, Jake Klim laces up his sneakers, heads out of his North Bethesda apartment and hits Rock Creek Trail running.
Recently, though, he said he has noticed a disturbing trend: runners pausing along their route, doing their business in the woods and heading back to the trail.
"Now, it's just one of those things," he said. "I've seen people coming out of the woods, and you can kind of tell what they're doing."
In December, the portable toilets that usually dot the trail, which stretches from Rockville to the District, went missing. Since then, runners and other park users have taken to the woods when nature calls, he said.
The latrines "serve a good purpose," said Klim, 28. "It's not just me that uses them; it's all the folks who are using the playing fields. People are still out there in the afternoons, on weekends."
Brian Woodward, chief of the southern division of the Montgomery County Department of Parks, said the decision to remove the porta-potties in winter is fiscal. Each year, the county accepts bids for the portable-toilet contract. The cost is largely based on how often the stalls have to be cleaned.
The contract for the southern division -- which encompasses all county parks south of Rockville -- was about $75,000 last year, Woodward said. That amount covers costs for about nine months, which means the facilities are removed in December and returned in March, he said. He could not say how many stalls are involved.
"We really use all the money we're given each year," Woodward said. "It's a tough balancing act, and we have to spend the money where it gets the greatest use, and that's when the weather's nice."
The county receives one or two complaints each year about the missing latrines, he said. But Fred Carson, parks liaison for the Montgomery County Road Runners Club, said the problem needs to be addressed.
"This is a big problem, and it's a real sanitary problem," he said. "I don't have to explain what happens when someone comes expecting a bathroom and they don't have one."
For police, it is mostly a nonissue. To cite someone for public urination, officers would have to witness the person in the act, said Lt. Karen Petrarca, a spokeswoman with the Montgomery division of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. The chances of that happening are slim, she said, and even then, officers have discretion whether to issue a citation.
Carson said he has been trying to persuade county parks officials to make the portable-toilet contract year round, citing the hundreds of runners in his club who use the Rock Creek Trail every weekend. So far, he has been unsuccessful.
Woodward said parks officials are worried that this year's state and county budget crunch will further cut funding for the toilets.
"We're all holding our breath," he said. "The fact is, if we could expand the use we would, but funding isn't available to do that."
ORIGINAL LETTER TO THE EDITOR
When nature calls out in nature
I am a runner and live in North Bethesda. I run on the Capital Crescent Trail and the Rock Creek Trail most mornings and find these trails a great asset to our community. However, I've noticed that the port-a-johns have been removed and this is having a ghastly affect on the area.
Last week, I encountered two people doing their business alongside Rock Creek. This is not uncommon and I've noticed this increasingly since the port-a-johns have disappeared.
Hundreds frequent this trail every winter morning like they do during the spring, summer and fall, and bathrooms aren't simply a luxury, they are a necessity.
Why have these bathrooms been removed? Do all of them need to be removed?
For the sake of the park and the comfort of those who use it, please consider replacing the port-a-johns.
Jake Klim, North Bethesda