Here's something you won't see very often: a state agency that's positively gleeful over cutting a basic service. Beginning this month, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources got rid of all the trash barrels in the day-use areas of state parks and told 7.5 million park users they have to clean up their own mess. Far from treating this as a gloom-and-doom budget cut, the DNR is heralding a grand new era of cleaner parks and environmental activism.
Skeptical? So were we. No way, we thought, are people going to haul home a bag of smelly garbage after a long day at Sandy Point State Park.
But nothing persuades more than success, and similar "carry in, carry out" programs are working well in the 21 other states that have tried them. Sure, there was some initial grumbling. But when faced with dumping litter on the ground or bagging it and taking it home, people did the right thing. In Rhode Island, New York and other states, natural resources officials say parks, beaches and wildlife sanctuaries have never been cleaner.
That did it. If New Yorkers can pick up their trash, we figure Marylanders can, too.
Besides which, trash-free parks are cheaper. The DNR says it will save $200,000 by not having to empty trash cans at its 65 properties, including three in Anne Arundel County: the Severn Run Environmental Area, parts of Patapsco Valley State Park and Sandy Point. That money can be used for maintenance and park improvements.
Although the DNR optimistically believes people will cooperate out of a feeling of "shared responsibility," whether a trash-free program works here will depend mainly on how convenient it is. The DNR is giving everybody one bag as they enter the gate, but there should be more available -- from rangers and in dispensers -- in case one is not enough. They also need to make sure they're using good, tough trash bags. This may sound like nitpicking, but nothing will make people hate this program or tempt them to litter more than having to load into their trunk a broken bag full of chicken bones and half-spoiled potato salad.
Finally, the 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 DNR can find them if they break the rules.