Park Nixes Poop Problem

Being a good steward to the environment takes a little finesse, like that of the American River Parkway Foundation (ARPF), a non-profit group that helps support, preserve, and protect the American River Parkway (ARP) in Sacramento, Calif.

That’s no small task for a system that encompasses a 23-mile stretch of the Sacramento River, and receives visits from more than 5 million people each year. The parkway has 300 acres of ”urbanized” or manicured areas, and 3,000 acres of natural grasslands and woods dominated by cottonwoods. Deer, coyote and turkeys roam the parkway, along with an occasional mountain lion. Recreational opportunities include 26 miles of hiking trails, golfing, fishing, boating, rafting, picnicking and a bike trail that consistently ranks in the top 10 in the nation. It’s no wonder why the parkway is known as the “The Jewel of Sacramento.”

Poop Problems

With the parkway passing near residential neighborhoods, many people enjoy their daily walk with Fido, Spot, or Rover and, in some cases, all three. Considering an average-size dog produces about a half-pound of excrement each day, the amount of parkway land and the number of canine-toting visitors to the ARP—that’s a lot of potential poop piling up.

Dog waste poses more problems than just aesthetic concerns. It can contain bacteria harmful to humans, including E. coli, salmonella, giardia and fecal coliform. In fact, a single gram of dog waste contains an average of 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. In some areas of the country, dog-waste pollution has required health officials to shut down beaches.

And dogs don’t even need to poop in the water for it to contaminate waterways. Rainwater washes it into streams and down storm drains. As the waste decomposes in the water, it uses oxygen and releases compounds harmful to animals relying on the water source. The nutrients from pet waste destroy the natural balance, and cause excessive algae growth, which further depletes the oxygen supply in the water.

A Simple Solution

Like many parks, the ARP needed a solution to the pet-waste problem. The ARPF discovered a company that offered dog-waste removal mitts that could be printed on, which meant the ARPF could offer sponsorships and deliver messages about keeping the parkway clean.

“We decided to use Mutt Mitts because they offered the best service. The mitts could be customized with our partners’ logos, and they also sold the stands,” says Dianna Aguilar, executive director of the ARPF.

After outlining the goals and implementation of the “Pups in the Parkway” program, the ARPF offered key businesses, groups, utilities and local governments the opportunity to support the parks and communicate with the dog owners via print space on the mitts under the call to action, “Join Our Team, Keep the River Clean!”

Sponsors + Partners = Change

One sponsor of the mitts is the Water Forum, a consortium of business and agricultural leaders, citizens’ groups, environmentalists, water managers and local governments that work together on water issues. “We sponsor the mitts because it is good for the parkway,” says Sarah Foley, deputy director with the forum. “We have participated in this worthwhile program for the past two years.”

Another sponsor is the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources, which is responsible for reducing the amount of pollution that goes into the local creeks and rivers. “We sponsor the Pups on the Parkway annually,” says Jeanette Watson, environmental specialist with the organization. “We decided to sponsor the mitts because one of our goals is to decrease waste entering the waterway.”

Stocked Stations, Less Waste

The mitts are provided free of charge to encourage dog owners to pick up after their pet. “We have the stations at 17 locations throughout the American River Parkway and some of the regional parks,” says Steve Flannery, chief ranger, Sacramento County Regional Parks Department. “Our rangers see the dog waste as a problem, and want to do their part by making sure the boxes are filled.”

Stations include a mitt dispenser, signage about the importance of picking up after one’s pet and a trash can. “Most people want to do the right thing,” says Flannery. “We have seen an increase in the cleanliness of the park because people have become aware that dog waste is pollution.”

“The time we spend on stocking the mitts decreases the amount of time we need to spend on maintaining the park by cleaning up after someone’s dog,” says Bill Katen, park maintenance supervisor, Sacramento County Regional Parks. “We are able to stop the pollution, bacteria and viruses at the source, and that helps us maintain a cleaner park.”

There is zero profit in it for the ARPF, ARP, or sponsors of the Pups in the Parkway program. They are providing the mitts to increase environmental awareness, and to keep their section of the river clean so “The Jewel of Sacramento” isn’t polluting downstream waterways and bays.

Real Change

“We are happy with the program and have seen marked improvements in people picking up after their pets,” says Watson. “Having the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources’ logo on the bags has increased our visibility to the public by helping people understand what we do.”

“The mitts are very handy for dog owners because they don’t have to carry their own bags, and they realize the benefits of picking up the dog waste—keeping the water clean and not tracking the waste throughout the parkway,” says Aguilar. “If the simple act of cleaning up dog waste keeps the park clean and clear for generations, that is the first step to environmental consciousness.”

Dayna Brown is a freelance copywriter in Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be reached at