Disposable masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment has become a necessity amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
But environmentalist groups are warning that the much needed PPE is also contributing to the pollution of the oceans and landfills.
It has also become a problem on local hiking trails.
“There’s tons of masks attached to all the plants. It’s insane,” says Northridge resident Kristen Hernandez, who said she has seen an increasing amount of coronavirus-related trash left in the local hills since the start of the pandemic.
“I take hikes before I go climbing. As you go towards the summit, you start to see masks, gloves, hand sanitizer on the trail floor,” said Hernandez, 33, who is an avid hiker and rock climber, something she took up three years ago. She likes to do both at Stoney Point Park in Chatsworth.
Also known as the Stoney Point Outcroppings, the park — located near the north end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard — is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers because of its large boulders. On weekends you can find amateur and experienced climbers there. The top of the rock formation offers a great view of the West San Fernando Valley.
Cleaning up the leftover pandemic garbage, along with discarded cloth, cups, plates — and everything else you can imagine — is now the task of Hernandez, founder of Trail Mothers, which began with a “Trail Mother” Instagram account to showcase Hernandez “hiking adventures” with her son, Liam.
From One Mom to Many
“At first (my son and I) were just picking up trash and hiking,” said Hernandez, when asked how she got started.
She would post pictures on her Instagram account. As she gained more followers, “somebody asked me if I was a group,” Hernandez said.
By 2017, Trail Mother had turned into the group “Trail Mothers” and Hernandez began hosting clean up events on local trails.
“We were just a bunch of moms who said ‘let’s go clean up,’ and we would go host an event and that was the end,” she said.
The group is now a nonprofit with dozens of volunteers.
“We’re now a whole community. We have people who don’t even have kids who come to the events and they’re ready to help, they’re ready to go.”
Their mission is to clean local hiking trails with an emphasis on Stoney Point Park, which Hernandez said is now ravaged by trash and vandalism — mostly graffiti on rocks and signs.
The socially distant cleanups continued through last year, but with the rising numbers of infections, those communal projects have turned into solo efforts. “We’re removing vandalism on signs and randomly doing cleanups throughout the week,” Hernandez explained.
Another area they’ve cleaned up is Limekiln Canyon in Porter Ranch.
“I do have a set of crew members, about 10 members from all over the city and they come out and help me clean. They come out on their own and they do clean ups on their own,” Hernandez said.
“I’m The Park Ranger”
In the meantime, Hernandez is growing her Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TrailMothers/) page and holding online fundraisers to purchase supplies.
The supplies are sorely needed because the trash just piles up at Stoney Park.
Think of it and you’ll find it in this open space in the western San Fernando Valley. Hernandez said crews have found beds, clothing, glass bottles, car batteries, helium tanks, even a Louis Vuitton bag somebody found buried.
“Everything that you see in your house, you see in the park,” she said.
Part of the problem, she feels, is the large number of visitors the park receives and the fact that there are no park rangers there.
“I’m the park ranger,” Hernandez said. “I made myself responsible for that area.”
It’s not unusual for her to go up to entire families and confront them about leaving trash behind.
“I say ‘Why are you doing this? Who don’t you put it in your backpack?’” she said.
Some people pick it up, other simply wave her off.
Hernandez is encouraging those who visit the local trails to take a trash bag with them, collect their trash, and dispose of it properly at their home.
“If you have kids, you need to teach them to always care about the earth and the land you walk on and keep it clean,” she said.
She hopes to raise enough funds (https://www.graffitiremovalinc.com/pages/stoneypointpark) to continue the work and also put up signs at Stoney Park detailing some of the history of the area, which includes Native American settlements as well as cowboys and an ocean basin millions of years ago.
“I want to be able to hire and train people on how to leave no trace, eliminate vandalism, have geologists come out and teach the whole community and instill some good ethics in everyone’s brain,” Hernandez said.
“We want to offer workshops where every event is going to have some education.”
But that would have to happen when the pandemic is over. For now, her work is to keep cleaning up the leftover masks, gloves and other PPE.
“With COVID-19, people have gotten way more careless,” she said. “I see people letting their masks go in the wind thinking it’s going to disappear by the dirt, and it doesn’t. They think (LA) city is going to come and pick it up, and that’s not the case.”
She recommends people who go hiking cut the strings from the masks and dispose of them properly, “so the masks won’t start attaching to plants and animals.” Hernandez said she is worried that all this trash will damage the environment in the area.
Next on her agenda is a two-hour cleanup along with her husband and son at Amir Garden in Griffith Park. She particularly wants to clean vandalized benches and poles.
She said she’ll be posting her efforts on social media to try and spread the word, hopefully motivating others to do the same.
“I want to make an impact, encourage other people to come out,” Hernandez said.
The idea is for her love of a clean, open outdoors to become contagious and set an example for others when they head into the wilderness. Her motto: “Stop the spread of trash and save Stoney Park.”
If people need supplies, Hernandez said they can email her and she’ll gladly provide them with buckets and trash bags. For more information about Trail Mothers, visit https://www.facebook.com/TrailMothers/ or firstname.lastname@example.org.