National Park closes trail so helicopter can purge tons of human waste

Angels Landing Bathrooms
View of the Summit of Angels Landing. Credit: Mountain Walrus

A popular hiking trail at Zion National Park in Utah was temporarily shut down this week so helicopters could evacuate 16,000 lbs. of human waste.


Angels Landing Zion Bathrooms
A view of Angels Landing from Observation Point at Zion National Park

Several years ago, park managers installed two secluded outhouses at a pivotal point along the Angel’s Landing Trail. The “bathrooms” really have no business being in such a remote area, but the trail is extremely popular and managers felt hikers needed a place to “answer natures call” at the Scout Lookout point of the trail.

Twice this week, park officials closed the trail for a few hours so helicopters could methodically fly out 32 barrels of human waste. It’s estimated that each barrel weighs about 500 lbs.

Zion Trail Crew and Fire Management staff removed waste from the evaporative toilets at Scout’s Lookout on two different days in November. Credit: NPS

“This is a bad spot for a toilet, but if we took them out there would be poop behind every bush,” park geologist Dave Sharrow told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We encourage people to use the toilet at the Grotto Trailhead.”

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The draw of Angels Landing

Angels Landing offers some of the most stunning views on Earth. It’s a 5 mile round trip trail which begins relatively tame – while steep, it’s paved first two miles and very well maintained.

It’s the last unpaved half mile of Angels Landing that attracts hikers from all over the world and makes it one of the busiest trails in the Southwest.



Angels Landing Narrow Path
During the last half mile stretch to Angels Landing, hikers traverse a very narrow sandstone ridge.

To avoid falling from sheer cliffs, hikers grip tightly on to heavy-duty chains anchored into the mountain fin. The trail drops 1200 feet on one side and 800 feet on the other.


Hiking the Ridge of Angels Landing in 2014

The bathrooms at Scouts Lookout are just before the dramatic trek, making Scouts Lookout a popular place for lunch and a place where those afraid of heights often stay back while the rest of their party completes the trail.

Not the first time

This is not the first time the park has used helicopters to remove the waste.  In 2016, the National Park Service posted a video of a helicopter ferrying emptied barrels back up to the trail.
The 2016 waste removal project took place in September, so it appears that the park likes to schedule the dirty job for right after the busy season.


Zion outranks Yellowstone in visitors

Zion National Park sees about 4 million visitors a year and now ranks fifth on the list of the most visited national parks. Zion is right behind the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Rocky Mountains. In recent years Zion moved one spot higher than Yellowstone.

Zion has become so busy that traffic has periodically backed into neighboring Springdale. The traffic jams have forced officials to rush vehicles through the toll gate, foregoing the revenue that comes with the $30-per-vehicle charge.

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