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Trashed in Oak Creek: Drunken partiers leave mess to clean up

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If it's nearing graduation time in Flagstaff's university and high schools, beer bottles are piling up in the Coconino National Forest under Midgley Bridge and at Chavez Crossing near Sedona.

The parties there seem to be growing.

Forest Service employees cleared out 400 pounds of trash from one recent weekend alone -- and that was before wall-to-wall crowds gathered under Midgley Bridge this past weekend for Cinco de Mayo.

These are high school and college students and fraternity members, often from Flagstaff, say Forest Service personnel.

"It definitely requires almost an entire day for one of our personnel to handle the aftermath ... it takes away our ability to respond to other issues," said Kevin Lehto, an assistant recreation staff officer on the Coconino National Forest.

Forest employees cleared 14 bags of trash from beneath Midgley Bridge on one weekend alone.

Law enforcement hasn't often ticketed anyone for littering because it's difficult to catch someone in the act.

"People go down there, and if there's not a law enforcement officer down there and they leave trash, it's a hard case to prove," said Jon Nelson, the top law enforcement officer on the Coconino National Forest.

Further, anyone younger than 21 and drinking alcohol has some incentive to leave the cans and bottles there.

"Especially when they're illegally drinking, they don't want to carry evidence that they have an illegal bottle or can of beer with them," Nelson said.

Police have cited a drunk driver at Chavez Crossing this year, and they have ticketed another for marijuana possession.

The Sedona Police patrol the crossing too, says the Forest Service.

Actually, these are in the domain of the sheriff's offices, said a woman at the Sedona Police Department (upper Oak Creek Canyon is in Coconino County, while Chavez Crossing sits on the border of Yavapai and Coconino counties).

Mostly, the Forest Service covers law enforcement in the forest and the Arizona Department of Public Safety covers traffic along the roadway, Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil said.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at ccole@azdailysun.com.

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