Over the course of a year, literally tons of garbage and human debris litter the shorelines of Scofield Reservoir. The pollution problem is so severe at times that health officials have threatened to close the reservoir to all recreational boating, fishing and camping.
The problem has grown worse in recent years - a situation aggravated by too many people and not enough developed camp sites. The result has been sewage and waste dumped into Scofield Reservoir - the culinary water source for the city of Price."Closing the lake is no longer a threat," said Max Jensen, regional manager for the Division of Parks and Recreation. "There's no chance of that. But the pollution and sewage problem continues to be a threat, and that's why changes have to be made."
Parks and Recreation officers have found themselves caught in the middle of the Scofield controversy: It is their job to provide recreational opportunities and at the same time preserve the water quality of the reservoir. Yet the problem of contaminated water supplies is a direct result of inadequate recreational facilities.
Parks and Recreation has made the pollution problem at Scofield Reservoir one of its highest priorities. The answer, officials believe, is to provide more and better camping sites away from the lake's shoreline. But that means acquiring consideration more recreation land than the state currently owns - property selling at premium prices.
"The state's population is expecting to double in the next 20 to 30 years," said Jensen, "and we need to meet the demands of future generations. Everyone realizes the state is strapped for money, but there is land available now and we should take advantage of it while we can. It's all the land there is. They're not making any more."
State officials say they are "crossing the t's and dotting the i's" on plans to expand camping facilities at Scofield by acquiring 110 addtitional acres of developable land on the north arm of the lake.
The state has worked out an agreement with Carbon County to acquire 30 acres of county-owned land. The state is also negotiating with private land owners to purchase and additional 80 acres of prime recreational property adjacent to the county property. Both sites, if they can be acquired and developed by the state, have the potential of providing hundreds of additional campsites with appropriate waste facilities.
Not only will the camping facilities provide recreation to meet growing needs, but they will lure campers who are currently setting up camp along the shoreline and polluting the lake.
The pollution and sewage problem at Scofield Reservoir has been ongoing since the reservoir was first built. Because almost all the land around the lake is private, recreationaists have only one place to legally camp: a 40-unit state park that operate at capacity almost all summer long.
When the park is full, which it usually is, there is no other place to camp other than alongside the shoreline.
"People just pull in anywhere they can and set up camp," said Mike Jackson, Scofield State Park superintendent. "Particularly on weekends there are people lined up along the shores. It's illegal, but there's often no other place for them to go. How can you ask them to leave if they have no place to go?"
That's why division officials believe the acquisition and development of more campground land, even though it will attract more visitors over the long run, will cut down on the pollution problem at the lake by offering squatters a better place to camp.
"There is no question we have to get those people off the shores and into an area with sanitation facilities," Jackson said. "If we have the camp sites for them, then we can strictly enforce the indiscriminate camping laws. We can force them off the shorelines."
The move, however, could prompt a tremendous public relations problem for the division. Some campers will se it as ploy by the division to bolster the park's revenue.
"There will be some people who won't want to pay the $6 camping fee (required at all state parks) and will continue to camp along the shores," said Jensen. "Those are the same people who care less about polluting the water."
But drastic measures may be required to save the lake for recreationists.
"We don't want to appear as if we are forcing people to camp in our parks," said Jensen. "We want to make it so they want to camp there. The bottom line, though, is that we have to protect our resources and maintain water quality."
The division currently owns or has access to 366 acres of land around the lake. However, all but 25 acres of them are on steep, undevelopable hillsides or divided by a state highway. "We have a lot of land on paper, but very little is usable," said Jensen.
That's why the division is anxious to acquire 30 acres from Carbon County. As it turns out, the state will not have to pay anything for it.
A downturn in the Carbon County economy came at the same time the state was looking to purchase more land. At first, the state agreed to manage the county park for Carbon County. Now Carbon County is deeding the land to the state. The site currently has 40 camp sites with a potential of 100 campsites.
"Having this area gives us the opportunity to disperse campers instead of having them all bunched together along the shore," said Jackson. "It also gets them away from the shore."
The Division of Parks and Recreation and the Division of Wildlife Resources are jointly trying to acquire 880 acres of land at the entrance to Madsen Bay Unit. The land has been particular trouble spot in terms of indiscriminate camping.
"It has good beaches, good access to the lake. It's always been popular among campers. It's a prime piece of land in terms of recreation," said Jensen.
If the state ca acquire the 80 additional acres for a reasonable price, officials say they can begin developing a master plan for the entire lake. That plan will include such things as improved boat ramps, improved public access and more group use areas. It will also enable the division to manage the lake to better avoid the pollution problems that have clouded the future of recreation.
An expanded park is critical to keeping Scofield open to recreationists. An estimated 300,000 people visit the lake every year. About 88,000 camped at the existing 40 unit state park.
"It's been a steady growth each year," said Jackson, "and there have been not funds to meet the demand, there will be more people camping along the shorelines and the pollution problem is not going to get any better. And that could threaten everyone's access to the lake."