Friday, July 21, 2017

Trailhead Porta-John Initiative Needs Your Help

New ADA-approved Porta-John and regular one at Cascade trailheadWhere people who are active outdoors in the Adirondack Park go to the bathroom is of concern to all of us. Human waste – and don’t think it doesn’t happen on mountaintops, lakeshores, and any peaceful wooded area — can pollute water bodies and ruin the nature experience for other hikers.

One way to solve the problem is better education about poop etiquette. Bury it or carry it out. Better yet, go before you enter the woods.

The Ausable River Porta-John project is making that easier. Started 10 years ago, it expanded to the High Peaks last year. It now has eleven Porta-Johns at popular locations throughout the region (See map here) and is seeing good results, as in fewer incidences of poop and toilet paper left behind.

“It’s really a success,” said Brendan Wiltse, science and stewardship director for the Ausable River Association. The High Peaks region, he added,  “is a lot cleaner and more beautiful because of it.”

But this spring, based on the success and usage of the Porta-Johns, the Department of Environmental Conservation asked that the Porta-Johns on state lands (seven of the eleven) be upgraded to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those are larger – and more expensive to rent.

Porta-John Program educational material on the facilities.Many of the businesses sponsoring the current program were unable to absorb the cost. Wiltse said they are waiting to see whether the state can help defray some of the cost because the program won’t be able to continue at its current level without additional money.

In the meantime, the program turned to crowd-funding.

Now we all can be part of this solution with a donation as little as $5 to the Porta-John Fund on the Adirondack Gives page (Donate here!), which is the way Wiltse would like to see it go. The campaign began about a week ago and, with 50 days to go, had already collected $882.50 toward its $4,000 goal.

“I’d really love if we could have 1,000 people give $5 each so they feel like they’re part of the solution,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit for something people are aware of, and a lot of people use the facilities, so were hoping some of the hiking crowd might be willing to contribute to it. The service benefits tens of thousands of people.”

The Porta-John program began with a few of the plastic outhouses along the west branch of the Ausable River to help deter people from going to the bathroom in the open near the river (a problem especially during Ironman and fly-fishing season). Later the program expanded to popular trailheads near the High Peaks. Some of the Porta-Johns are available Victoria Day (May 23) through Columbus Day; others are out Victoria Day through Labor Day. The association shared the locations with the Ironman organizers, even making a map.

Over the years, people have become used to where the facilities are, so they can wait to go until they reach one. And one Porta-John at Cascade, Wiltse points out, equals 100 gallons of waste not being deposited anywhere else on the mountain.

Photos of new ADA-approved facility along with the traditional size at Cascade Mountain. Educational materials about how to be responsible about waste is posted on the front of the Porta-John. Photos by Tracy Ormsbee

Related Stories

Tracy Ormsbee is the publisher of the Adirondack Explorer. When she’s not working – and it’s not black fly season – you can find her outdoors hiking, running, paddle boarding or reading a book on an Adirondack chair somewhere.

9 Responses

  1. Michael T. Clarke says:

    Im not convinced of the need for all these porta-johns to be in compliance with the Americans for Disabiluties Act. Can the author of this article provide a bit more detail?

    • Boreas says:


      I believe the spirit of the law requires that any time old structures are updated and new structures built in PUBLIC buildings and areas that they need to be ADA compatible. Since any PJ typically needs to be in an area that is accessible from a truck to empty it, it would likely require an ADA compliant PJ. All of the PJs at the site wouldn’t have to be compliant, but at least one would have to be. So no, they ALL don’t have to be compliant, but at least one per site would have to be ADA compliant. At least that is my understanding. But it would be nice if the contractor rented the ADA PJs at the same price as a regular one at these locations!

    • Michael,

      The Ausable River Association (AsRA) places the porta-johns on state land under a Voluntary Stewardship Agreement with the DEC. As the land manager, DEC has complete control over the terms of that agreement. When DEC required at least one ADA compliant facility at each location on state land, AsRA was faced with the decision to either not put out the porta-johns or move forward with the program and seek funding to cover the difference in cost. We know the program is effective at addressing the human waste issue, so we moved forward. Each year the program prevents about 10,000 gallons of human waste from entering the environment.

      This crowdunding effort will either need to occur annually or we need to find a major donor to underwrite the entire program. We are simulatenously working both avenues. Our hope is that we will find a way to make the program sustainable under the new terms of our agreement with DEC. The program has proven itself effective for many years, it would be a shame to see it end.


  2. Boreas says:

    The link to the map in the 3rd paragraph seems to be broken.

  3. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Tracy Ormsbee must be reading too many books on an Adirondack Chair if she believes “Better yet, go before you enter the woods.” will solve the over-rated poop problem. That approach certainly won’t handle a natural human/biological function for more than a day tops! Even with overflow crowds on the High Peaks human waste can’t hold a candle to the amount of waste contributed to the environment by all the critters that inhabit/live “out there”!

    “Wilderness” huh?…the all too frequent rant heard in this forum, but of course we must have our porta pottis and now “carry it out”…I mean really is “Human Waste” more damaging to the environment than all the deer, moose and thousands of waterfowl on the lakes/streams in the ADK’s defecating/urinating wherever the urge strikes??

    Get a grip folks…”Wilderness” is “wilderness”….no porta john’s, no restaurants and no human/friendly facilities. You’ve taken “Carry out” a step too far and without any “scientific/biologic” support other than it seems “unsanitary” by human standards.

    • Jim S. says:

      It sounds like you are advocating for more poop on the trail, maybe that will help solve the trail erosion problem. Good thinking Tim!

    • Taras says:

      You’ve missed a key differentiator: dispersal.

      Feces from animals are *dispersed* throughout the High Peaks. The few areas of concentration are along game trails.

      Feces from uninformed hikers are *concentrated* on several summits and trail-junctions.

      The difference is having a ton of excrement dispersed throughout your community or concentrated on your front porch.

      You may think “carry out” is a step too far but this policy is already in effect in other places, notably ecologically sensitive areas like alpine zones or where biodegradation is exceedingly slow (like Denali).

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox