Seductive Boxcar Canyon Draws Safety, Pollution Concerns
Photos and Story by Bob Walter...

     
     August 27, 2006


    Boxcar. The name evokes a visceral reaction from many around Eatonville. Especially to the young, and to the locals who grew up here. It is a place of incredible beauty, a place of potential danger, and a place of continuing controversy. 
    Boxcar Canyon on the Mashell River is just one mile directly east of downtown Eatonville. But when you're standing there, perhaps perched high on the railroad trestle, or down closer to the still, deep waters exiting the canyon,  you're in another world. Just east of the canyon, upstream, the river flows straight at a sixty-foot wall of rock. Then, like an animal seeking passage, it makes another run at it, turning back east and then again west, where eons ago it managed to cut through on its way to the Nisqually. 
    The awesome beauty of the river here, along with fairly easy access for the agile, has for decades drawn picnickers, revelers, lovers, thrill-seekers, and those just wanting to get away from it all and soak in the splendor. And therein lies a problem, because not all of those who visit Boxcar leave it as it was. This is a problem that could affect nearly everyone in Eatonville, for the town's water system still includes an intake in the riverbed just a mile or so below the canyon. So what goes into the water at Boxcar can contaminate, before it receives any treatment at least, the water that eventually reaches our taps. 
   
  

Clean up Two Years Ago Barely Made a Dent in the Garbage...

      Two years ago ENN joined a number of volunteers and elected officials, including then county council member Kevin Wimsett, on a visit to Boxcar. Trash was everywhere. A car body could be seen down a steep slope nearby. A car muffler, shot full of holes, was pulled out of the water. A used diaper lay in the bushes. Our group hauled out garbage sacks full of garbage, but more remained. (For 2004 story and photos please see 
Boxcar Clean up 2004 )
    Just a few weeks ago, in late July, as has happened for endless summers, a large number of people were again making the pilgrimage to Boxcar, some drinking large quantities of beer, building fires, swimming in the river, urinating in or near the river, leaving trash, throwing bottles onto the rocks, bringing and allowing their dogs to defecate and urinate, and leaving soiled babies' diapers among the detritus on the shore. The pollution is very evident. The danger created by intoxicated people taking ill-advised risks in such a treacherous setting is also obvious.
    The disrespect shown toward the river and the land,  prompted a comment to Mayor Tommy Smallwood from Chuck McTee, who has been trying to protect the area, and the water Eatonville drinks for many decades. The police were directed to evict the latest party goers. The canyon was "closed." Over forty signs were posted, and within a day or two, in a show of defiance, all but three or four had been torn off.  This writer visited the canyon July 31 and photographed some of the discarded garbage. Four teenage boys, who had been jumping into the river from a narrow rock ledge about thirty feet up, left as I arrived. 
    Then on August 21, a fire was discovered burning on a slope just south of the canyon and east of the tracks. Mayor Tommy Smallwood confirmed that Eatonville Police Officer Jason McGuire and Pierce County Deputy Sheriff Michael Phipps smelled the smoke from a wildfire apparently started by someone shooting a bottle rocket.  Fortunately, they discovered the fire soon enough that it was extinguished before it could spread. Eatonville does not have a fire vehicle small enough to reach the site, so PCFD 15 responded, and a Washington Department of Natural Resources fire crew mopped up.  With the very dry conditions, it could have been much worse. 

Campfire Site Used Many Times...

     Photo taken July 31, 2006: On a grassy bench near the river's bank, far below the railroad trestle, revelers have lit bonfires, and thrown bottles, cans and other litter into the fires. While the natural setting is spectacular, the sight of the trash leaves one to wonder how much those using the site really appreciate it. 
    Another clean-up is being planned, but a more permanent solution to the problem must be found. If all those who visit this incredibly beautiful spot could be trusted to treat it with respect, perhaps it would remain available for more people to visit and enjoy. But the problem of pollution has persisted for decades. 
    The Nisqually Land Trust is moving to acquire the well-known canyon and surrounding land, to keep it pristine.

Fire at Boxcar Last Week...

    Thursday, August 24, 2006. The unmistakable smell of charred wood rose from the remains of the small wildfire extinguished on Monday, August 21. A fresh trail, obviously made by the fire crew, led down to the site. The responders had done their job well. The small fire, allegedly started by a bottle rocket on fairly steep terrain, now cold, had a fireline dug completely around it, down to bare soil. A potentially disastrous fire had been averted.
     Fire hazard is high all around the area. Reports say 2006 is the driest summer on record. There is a burn ban in effect. Even a smoldering cigarette, tossed from a vehicle, could create a conflagration. Please be careful.

Signs Don't Stop Trespassers...

     July 31, 2006: Signs have never worked to keep people out of Boxcar and they still don't work, especially when the phone numbers are incomplete. A public works director is listed, but Eatonville has no public works director. 

Another Example of Signs Not Working...

 

    July 31, 2006.A sign posted to protect the Mashell River watershed from uncaring visitors. This was one of only a few still remaining, of over forty posted just a couple of days earlier.

Rusty Shovel Head in River...

     July 31, 2006: You never know what you will find at Boxcar Canyon, in the water or out of the water. This shovel head was photographed  in late July. At the bottom of this page you will see an old car muffler found two years ago.  

Beer, Steep Canyons, the Trestle and Rivers, a Potentially Deadly Mix Combination...

     July 31. 2006: River rock is cluttered with unsightly, broken glass and beer bottles from past parties. The hazardous nature of the rock cliffs and the high trestle, combined with the high amount of beer-drinking at parties there, make for very dangerous circumstances.

Lovely Site used as a Toilet...

July 31, 2006. A used diaper adds to the potentially hazardous nature of the garbage at Boxcar Canyon.

Man Made Ruts Lead to Tranquil Pool...

    July 31, 2006: Where no road exists, four-wheelers have made their own, leading down to a gravel beach and a wide pool, peaceful but possibly polluted, where the river exits Boxcar Canyon.

Is this Peaceful Pool Polluted?

    August 24, 2006: This seemingly pristine pool on the Mashell River, just a couple of bends upstream from Boxcar Canyon, is a feast for the eyes. But a closer look reveals the leavings of a few recreationists who neglected to "pack it out."

Polluted Pool? You be the Judge...

    August 24, 2006: A small oil slick collects in a backwater of the Mashell River, just upstream from Boxcar, and from the town's intake basins.

Greenery Hides Fire Site...

    August 24, 2006. The dark area behind the foliage in the center of this photo is where the small forest fire burned last week.  Fortunately, it did not "crown," which could have given it much greater momentum.

An attempt to Clean Up?

    August 24, 2006: Someone has recently made an attempt to provide a collection bin for discarded trash near the beach at Boxcar, and by the looks of it, they have even picked up others' leavings. The gesture falls short, however, since the trash remains at the site. 

More Danger at Canyon...

    August 24, 2006: Near the site of the wildfire, the river comes to a high rock face, to which rock climbers have bolted a series of anchor rings for practicing their hobby. There are approximately twenty-five of these rings bolted into the rock face.

Bullet Riddled Old Muffler...

    This car muffler was pulled from the Mashell River in March 2004 during a clean up of the Boxcar Canyon area. Note the bullet entry and exit holes. Shooting is also against the law at Boxcar Canyon.

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