Jeff Jardine

Snow players leaving behind mountain of trash up Highway 108

Sunday’s discards after a hard day of snow sliding at Little Sweden, 25 miles east of Sonora along Highway 108. Snow players, many of whom parked illegally and trespassed on private land, left this trash behind for locals to pick up.
Sunday’s discards after a hard day of snow sliding at Little Sweden, 25 miles east of Sonora along Highway 108. Snow players, many of whom parked illegally and trespassed on private land, left this trash behind for locals to pick up. JON NESSL /

Finally, snow. After four winters that yielded only a few lower-elevation storms, and not necessarily at times when families could get away to enjoy them, people couldn’t wait to play in the white stuff.

So when the New Year’s weekend arrived and with snow piled up, families rushed to the mountains to take advantage. A frenzy, one Tuolumne County resident called it. Some indeed fed a local economy starved for business after four years of drought and are respectful of the folks who live up there.

Pure mountain bliss, right?

Not so fast. What’s transpired up along Highway 108 from Sierra Village to Strawberry over the weekend left many locals angry and disgusted. It seems that visitors, including more than a few from the Valley, did exactly up there what some do down here: They trashed the place. Only instead of tossing spent sofas, TVs and bags of trash along country roads, they left garbage and busted-up plastic snow toys for the locals to clean up from their private property. Some snow players, mountain folk claimed, blocked private driveways. They had a blast.

The locals? Not so much – for some not at all – and for numerous reasons. Many of the visitors didn’t support local stores and restaurants. To the contrary, they brought their lunches. That’s fine, locals contend, if they simply took the wrappers and cups and whatever with them when they left instead of dumping it on the ground. Which some didn’t. OK, a lot didn’t.

Some tourists, the locals contend, did what bears do – you know – in the woods. The problem is people live and run businesses in these woods, and found their yards and parking areas used as, well, commodes. Krista Burkling, a local business operator, vented on Facebook. She pleaded with visitors to treat her employees decently when they suddenly invade her eatery just before closing time.

“Telling employees they are stupid, threatening to call the cops because they turned off the oven before close (yes, the police ... for turning off an oven), throwing things at employees and last but not least ... smearing fecal matter all over the ladies’ bathroom. Classy. Just classy.”

They are collectively venting on Facebook on the Tuolumne County Incident Feed and other pages. They’ve posted photos of the trash left for them to pick up. They’ve already scheduled cleanups for Highways 108 and 4 following the Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day weekends. That is pathetic when you think about it, having to set aside their own time to clean up the messes others so predictably will make. Some Valley residents post on it, assuring the locals they aren’t the problem children – that they play by the rules and respect private property.

One area resident, Linda Emerson of Rawhide, said that when her own grandchildren told her they wanted to come up to play in the snow, she sent them to another county.

“I’m concerned,” she said. “Tensions are building.”

Tuolumne County resident Jon Nessl is among those who shared a photograph on Facebook.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad,” he said. “A friend in Tahoe told me it’s the same thing up there. They do all kinds of stuff, going past the chains-required signs and then stopping to put their chains on right in the middle of the road when they can’t go any further. We don’t have enough police to deal with it.”

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Chesson said the lack of respect by some folks toward other people’s property is disappointing.

“And if you do say something to them, they take it as a personal attack instead of just cleaning it up,” he said.

I can tell you from experience the locals are not exaggerating. This kind of thing has been going on in varying degrees for decades. My family lived above Sonora at the 2,600-foot elevation for more than a decade beginning in the mid-1960s. It snowed two or three times during those years – enough to mash down into inner tube runs on the hills in the subdivision. But on snow-covered weekends, the invasions began. Carloads of families arrived to play in the snow. They didn’t care that they were on private property. Some built snowmen in residents’ front yards. They’d pull their cars off of the pavement only to sink deep into the red clay shoulders, leaving deep ruts behind.

When the snow melted a day or so later, their calling cards would emerge in the form of trash and pre-owned toilet paper. And that, some would argue, was when the world was a friendlier, nicer place that it is today.

Residents of the Highway 108 corridor aren’t feeling particularly nice or friendly today. Nor did they feel any nicer or friendlier Sunday night, which is sad.

Most of the people I know up there are really nice and genuinely friendly until tourists treat their area like a landfill or a public toilet, or a public toilet in the middle of a landfill.

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