Trail users expected to ignore nature's call
County funds don't cover port-a-potties during winter
Spenser Li/Special to The Gazette
Almost every morning, Jake Klim laces up his sneakers, heads out of his North Bethesda apartment, and hits Rock Creek Trail running.
Recently though, he's noticed a disturbing trend: runners dropping trou', doing their business in the woods and heading back to the trail.
"Now it's just one of those things," he said. "I've seen people coming out of the woods, and you can kind of tell what they're doing."
The portable bathrooms that dot the trail, which stretches from Rockville to Washington, D.C., went missing in December, and runners and other park users have been forced to take to the woods when nature calls, the 28-year-old Klim said.
"They serve a good purpose," he said of the latrines. "It's not just me that uses them; it's all the folks who are using the playing fields. People are still out there in the afternoons, on weekends."
Brian Woodward, southern division chief for Montgomery County's Department of Parks, said the decision to remove the port-a-potties each winter is purely fiscal. Each year the county accepts bids for the portable toilet contract, and the prices are based on how often the companies have to come and clean the stalls.
The contract for the southern division—which includes all county parks south of Rockville—was about $75,000 for 2008, Woodward said. That amount covers the cost for about nine months of the year — meaning the facilities are removed each December and return in March, he said. He could not say how many of the portable stalls are involved.
"We really use all the money we're given each year," Woodward said. "It's a tough balancing act, and we have to spend the money where it gets the greatest use, and that's when the weather's nice."
The county receives one or two complaints each winter about the missing latrines, he said.
But Fred Carson, parks liaison for the Montgomery County Road Runners Club, said the problem is one that needs to be addressed.
"This is a big problem, and it's a real sanitary problem," he said. "I don't have to explain what happens when someone comes expecting a bathroom and they don't have one."
For park police, it's a non-issue. To actually cite someone for public urination, police would have to witness the person in the act, said Lt. Karen Petrarca a spokeswoman with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, Montgomery County Division.
The chances of that actually happening are slim, she said, and even then officers have discretion whether to cite the offender.
Carson said he's been trying to work with county parks officials to extend the port-a-potties year-round, citing the hundreds of runners in his club that use the Rock Creek Trail every weekend, but so far he has been unsuccessful.
And while Carson has been pushing for more of the portable toilets, Woodward said the parks department is worried that this year's state and county budget crunch will further cut funding for portable facilities.
"We're all holding our breath," he said. "The fact is if we could expand the use we would, but funding isn't available to do that."