Rest area closure causes litter problem for community residents

By Cinthia Stimson

Douglas Budget

Via Wyoming News Exchange

DOUGLAS — No, it’s not a pretty sight –far from it, in fact. 

Nearly a dozen piles of darkly-colored human excrement line the road into Jim Skeen’s property near Orin Junction, 11 miles outside of Douglas, last week. Next to each pile of poop lay clearly-used wads of toilet paper. 

The past few days have been scorchers, too. It’s been nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the last week and the smell is . . . questionable, at best. 

Skeen is not happy people are using his driveway for an outdoor toilet. What they may be finding convenient is inconvenient, and smelly and disgusting, for him. 

Since several rest areas in the state were ordered closed earlier this summer by Gov. Mark Gordon, relieving oneself between communities is a problem. 

Wyoming’s open roads are long. Rest areas offer welcome respite – not to mention privacy and the appropriate way to dispose of people’s wastes – between long drives along the highways and interstates. 

Gordon ordered the Wyoming Department of Transportation close 10 rest areas due to budget concerns in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in June. 

In addition to Orin Junction’s rest area on I-25, rest areas in Lusk on US 18, Guernsey on US 26, Greybull on US 14- 16-20, Moorcroft on Interstate 90, Star Valley on US 89, Ft. Steele on Interstate 80, Sundance on Interstate 90, Upton on US 16, and Chugwater on Interstate 25 are closed. 

“I understand people need to relieve themselves,” Skeen said. “My wife and I have spotted people relieving themselves (along our driveway) on our way back home during daylight. The other day there was a guy standing by the gate going to the bathroom. He was pretending to open the gate, with no key. I tell people not to do that. They give me sign language back.” 

“There’s not much you can do,” Keen said, describing his attempts to thwart the outdoor potty enthusiasts. 

Skeen said when he first noticed the piles of poop and used toilet paper on his driveway just east of the rest stop, he began cleaning the filth up himself. 

Then, he got tired of it, thinking to himself he shouldn’t be the one to have to clean it up.

People pooping on the side of his road may be a direct result of the Orin Junction rest area being closed, he said, and he thinks the state ought to be cleaning up the messes, as people are obviously not cleaning up after themselves.

“I’ve contacted the state, called the governor’s office on July 7. (The governor) wasn’t able to talk to me and they put me through to someone else, who put me through to another person. I talked to someone with the state department of roads. He told me they would try to get people out to clean it up, and he’d talk to the highway patrol and ask them to try and stop and tell people not to do that. Do we have to tell people they shouldn’t do that (on someone’s property)?” he said, his voice tinged with a mixture of disbelief and resignation. 

While the areas are closed for the foreseeable future, they may not be closed permanently, Wyoming Department of Transportation Public Affairs Officer Doug McGee told the Budget a month ago. 

“We haven’t had a discussion that far into the future. All sorts of things could happen. They could be put toward another use or sold,” he said. 

WYDOT estimates the closures will save $197,453 by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. Even more ambitious, they hope to save $789,812 by the end of the next fiscal year.

McGee said they chose which rest areas to close based on their vicinity to towns, truck stops and convenience stores. 

Skeen said during one of his conversations with officials, someone even offered to put up a sign near his property directing people to the truck stop in Orin. 

He’s not sure that’s the solution, however.

“They’re not looking for a truck stop, they’re looking for a rest room. You really can’t see the truck stop from the highway. (People) are looking for a place to go to the bathroom,” he stated. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Skeen’s been stuck in this crappy situation. He maintains it happens every time the Orin Junction rest area is closed. 

“I’ve seen it happen before. I’ve lived in Orin since 1995. Anytime there’s issues with water or other different things, they close (the Orin rest stop). It was a temporary deal those times, I knew they’d open it back up. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with this problem, though,” he explained. 

Orin’s rest area is about 11 miles from Douglas along I-25, and only a few hundred feet away from the Orin Junction Truck Stop along Highway 18-20. 

In actuality, the truck stop – complete with bathroom facilities – is less than one mile (or a three minute drive) from the closed rest area.

McGee said this is a problem across Wyoming, even with many rest areas still open. 

“It is, of course, the personal responsibility of everyone to find an appropriate place to use the rest room,” McGee said Friday, referring to the issue of people making no effort to clean up their roadside bathroom stops. 

He’s contacted WYDOT district maintenance and highway patrol regarding people pooping on Skeen’s property, he said. 

“Highway patrol is going to attempt to increase their attention to the Orin rest area and the neighboring driveways, as well as watch for that ‘behavior.’ Maintenance is talking to their personnel to see if they can assist with clean up.

“It happens all over Wyoming regardless of rest area proximity. I did speak with Mr. Skeen and one other person from the area. We’re hopeful highway patrol presence will increase and watch for it,” he said. 

McGee said Skeen’s complaint is perfectly reasonable to “not to want it to happen in your own driveway.” 

“I empathize with him very strongly. It’s terrible people are that thoughtless. There’s a truck stop just down the road and I really don’t understand people who make decisions like that,” McGee said. 

McGee doubts the numerous piles of human feces in Skeen’s driveway are from a repeat offender. 

“I would like to hope someone who is driven to that extreme on one occasion would then realize, ‘I need to plan better.’ A certain percentage of people are going to be selfish and careless. That’s difficult to regulate, but we will do everything we can to help,” he said.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Lieutenant Randy Starkey confirmed the department will increase patrols in the area as much as possible with the limited staffing they’re experiencing. 

Starkey said it’s not against the law to go to the bathroom outside in Wyoming, but it is against the law to litter – which is exactly what people are doing when they leave toilet paper and paper towels behind after doing their business on our state’s roadways. 

“I doubt people would appreciate it being done in their own driveways. It comes down to treating others the way you’d like to be treated.

“I understand there may be some signage put up, directing people to the Orin truck stop, or letting people know Douglas just 11 miles away,” he said. 

An employee at the Orin Junction Truck Stop who declined to give his name or his manager’s contact information Monday said use of their bathrooms have increased since the rest area shut down.