Attention picnickers: Pick up and carry out your own trash.
That's the message that went out last week for visitors to day-use areas of Maryland's state parks and forests. All trash cans have been removed and visitors are given recyclable garbage bags when they enter a park.
The "carry in, carry out" trash program is already working well in 21 other states. Sure, there was some initial grumbling. But when faced with dumping litter on the ground or bagging it and taking it home, most people did the right thing.
The Department of Natural Resources expects to save more than $100,000 in annual contracted garbage removal costs each year. And there are other savings: Park staff will be freed for tasks such as trail patrols and maintenance projects.
At Patapsco Valley State Park west of Baltimore, one of the state's most popular, the staff spends three days a week emptying garbage cans. Rocks and Susquehanna state parks in Harford County expect to save $20,000 annually from the plan.
It's more than a money issue. The smelly trash barrels attracted pesky bees, crows, raccoons, rats and sea gulls, which spread litter. Humans tossed garbage near but often not in the target barrels.
Most importantly, the state hopes that the do-it-yourself program will foster a renewed sense of environmental responsibility among park users and encourage them to recycle waste. The garbage cans formerly in the parks did not have separate receptacles for recyclable materials. Presumably, people will be more prone to recycle the detritus they have to carry home.
There is a risk that uncooperative visitors may throw their trash on the ground and leave, rather than bagging it and taking it home. Experience in other states has shown that not to be the case, and we believe Marylanders will continue to be most protective of their environment.
The parks need to make sure that trash bags are available at picnic grounds, as well as at the gates. And the bags should be the heavy-duty variety: Nothing will make people hate this program or tempt them to litter more than having to load a broken bag full of chicken bones and half-spoiled potato salad in the trunk.
Finally, DNR may want to do what Rhode Island does -- mark park users' license plate numbers on their bags as they enter. This way, those who might "forget" to take their trash home know the park police can find them if they break the rules.