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Memorial Day Weekend at Shasta Lake: Night and Day

Today we talk with Troy Nicolls for the second time in less than a week. This is a follow-up to Wednesday’s interview with Troy of the United States Forest Service, where he blew the whistle on the messes left by partiers at Shasta Lake for more than 20 years.

Troy Nicolls of the United States Forest Service.

Troy Nicolls of the United States Forest Service.

Q: Troy, can you believe it’s been less than a week since the story broke about the mess left by partiers at Slaughterhouse Island. The last time we spoke you were beyond frustrated after years of dealing with a trashy situation. Can you do a one-sentence recap, for those who somehow missed the story?

In a nutshell, the Forest Service has been picking up boatloads of trash two to three weekends every May as a result of college parties at Shasta Lake for more than 20 years. The numbers of individuals at the parties range from 1,000 to 4,000 people, and often well over 200 houseboats. By sheer numbers, their actions remained uncontrollable by enforcement agencies.

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Q: So, after decades of just dealing with party after-math, you talked about it. The topic went viral and got a lot of people’s attention.

Kind of.  After last weekend we had one of the biggest messes we’ve ever had, given the number of students at the party. To make it worse, I was not prepared from a staffing standpoint to deal with the mess in a timely manner. Coincidentally, I sent my boss(es) a text threatening to quit if we didn’t get media coverage. At the same time an unknown citizen made a Facebook post of the mess, which instantly went viral. I believe the combination of the two actions, combined with the graphic nature of local media coverage,really hit home with the public at large university officials, and eventually, the students.

Q: Before we fast forward to this Memorial Day weekend, can you first describe what previous Memorial Day weekends have been like at Shasta Late?

I have years of documentation regarding actions taken and the aftermath regarding Memorial Day weekends. I can assure you that students —  as well as older participants — in every Memorial Weekend party for the last 20 years have behaved completely irresponsibly.  Without fail, they’ve left loose trash in quantity and quality beyond imagination, every single year.

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It has been completely obvious that all involved had no intention of cleaning up after themselves. In fact, in some cases they even unloaded all remaining trash from their boat to the shoreline so they don’t have to deal with it back at the marina. It’s always been totally disgusting, and a huge disappointment to me. It has left me discouraged and seriously wondering about the future of humanity.

Trash like this mess left two weekends ago at Shasta Lake has been common for decades.

Trash like this mess left two weekends ago at Shasta Lake has been common for decades.

Q: How did those years compare with this past weekend?

This year was a night and day difference. This weekend, each of the three mornings we visited Slaughterhouse Island we were greeted with a beach that was cleaner than any other on the lake. It was almost a little scary moving through the weekend. After seeing the beach the first day I was excited. After hearing from employees the second day it left me hopeful, but still a bit worried. You see, the last day tells the truth, and I wasn’t completely convinced the message had hit home with all involved.

Memorial Day, I was elated. The condition of the beach at Slaughterhouse — and every other location I know that partiers inhabit — were clean. I felt more relieved than you could ever imagine.

Memorial Day weekend at Slaughterhouse Island is clean and tidy

Q: I can imagine! Now, what happened to make this change?

Behavioral modification through consequential embarrassment via social media exposure was the stimulus. Additional reinforcement of consequences by Forest Service law enforcement every evening of the party weekend sealed the deal.

I really believe it’s that simple. These people have been getting away with total abandonment of personal responsibility by virtue of their sheer numbers for 20 years. People, especially drunk people, can be lazy and irresponsible, so leaving their crap is easy to do when so many people leave at once (in the cover of darkness). Enforcement officials were helpless to monitor thousands of partiers converging on one space during a concentrated period of time.

Q: Do you think this improvement is permanent?

It can be, but only if students throughout all west coast colleges and universities band together to promote cultural and behavioral change within their own campuses and among the Greek community.

Agencies don’t have the funding or resources sufficient to manage a problem like this, and they shouldn’t have to. I believe it is completely up to people to place personal responsibility above self-indulgence. They can still have fun while being responsible.

Q: What else should we know?

Several things. I cannot emphasize enough; University of Oregon students and members of Lambda Chi Alpha were and are not the only people who have trashed Shasta Lake on an annual basis. Students from UC Davis, Sac State, Chico State, Oregon Tech, Oregon State and others  – especially members of the Greek community — have been equally irresponsible in the past. Furthermore, there are plenty of older folks who contribute to this mess. One fraternity did not cause this problem!

Also, not yet widely known, Monday more than 40 members from the University of Oregon chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha traveled down from Oregon to perform community service work at the lake. It was a self-directed effort with the intent to clean up the island following this weekend’s party.

Since the island was so clean, I recommended they split up into four groups and  collect trash from areas more frequently used by local recreationists.

About 40 Oregon State University students drove to the lake just to help with clean-up.

About 40 students from the University of Oregon’s chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha traveled to Shasta Lake just to help with potential Memorial Day weekend clean-up.

Having already received substantial threats from people in their hometown, they demonstrated courage, remorse, and took ownership for their mistake. They did a great job, and I intend to work with them in the future.

What is disappointing is at at last weekend’s party, many other fraternities were present and assuredly were equally responsible for the mess, yet only 40 young men stepped up to the plate. There were probably about 1,000 people at the party. Heck, we found 92 abandoned tents alone! The point is, I think there are a few more people who need to have their bell rung.

I told these guys that I acknowledged the fact they are not the only people to ever trash Shasta Lake. The national exposure via social media implicated them as the sacrificial scapegoats and exposed the magnitude of this annual occurrence through their exposure and well-deserved personal suffering.

The face of college parties at Shasta Lake may change for years to come.

While working together we had some great dialogue regarding ideas to make their events more bearable for the Forest Service, Sheriffs Office, Marina Operators, lake users and students as well. I’m hoping conversations like this can continue in the future.

Lastly, It’s hard to describe the personal ownership I have felt for this problem in the 15 years I have occupied my current position. While I consider this weekend a complete success, I remain ambivalent regarding the future of these events. As I mentioned earlier, students control the future of their responsible conduct.

My hope is recent events will inspire leadership within the Greek community and students at large from ALL west coast schools to pool their thoughts, ideas and resources to devise a plan to instill personal responsibility above self indulgence, true environmental ethics and respect for the many other people who work play and travel through the Shasta Trinity National Forest and all public lands.

Thank you, Troy, for your service, and for taking the time to talk with me on A News Cafe.com, and on Memorial Day weekend, too. I wish you the very best, and that your days of picking up tons of trash at Shasta Lake are over.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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