We had a school group come the park today and they raided the snack part of our gift shop during a break in the program. So, it will be a good evening for our clean-up crew. We have a special clean-up crew that works nights, 365 days a year, without holidays. No, I am not talking about the two-legged kind of maintenance crew that comes in every morning early to shine the bathrooms, empty the trash, and get us ready for a new day of visitors. I’m talking about the two- and four-legged kind, both furry and feathered, who make their appearance as soon as the last employee and last visitor leaves the public parts of the park–the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, crows, and other birds.
I often work farther into the evening than other staff members, so I hear noises that sound like some ghost or spirit is rattling around outside my office. One night I found the source of all of that after-hours racket. A raccoon hopped out of the trash can just as I walked past. I think that we were both scared an equal amount. Most evenings as I walk up through the parking lot, I will also disturb two or three crows stalking around and looking for treats.
Once in a while I eat lunch on our upper deck after a school group like today’s has sat and eaten their snacks or lunches. That’s when you find out which are the braver songbirds living in the park. Especially the tufted titmice seem to have no fear of humans when the snacks are really plentiful. First, they fly to the rail that goes around the deck. From there if you watch you can see them carefully scoping out the tables vacant of people and with the best looking crumbs under them. The birds then flit down, grab up some of the good stuff, and head back to the railing to enjoy the treats. After an hour or so of this diligent work, they can have things pretty well cleaned up.
I don’t mean to imply that I think that this human food is particularly good for our animal friends. Sometimes I wonder if those jalapeño Cheetos ever keep them up at night like they do me. Most of the time parks try to limit the amount of access that the animals have to our leftovers. So, the design of garbage cans continue to evolve, as the animals continue to get smarter. They can leave an awfully large mess when they really go through a trash can. The mess shown in the photo below shows just how bad things can get.
The raccoons are the most adept at getting into human trash cans. So, our old design trash cans had a hidden latch that you had to work before you could open the lid. The problem with these cans was that the latches were so well hidden that humans had to study the little instruction picture carefully and then try it two or three times before getting the hang of it. The raccoons never did figure it out, but they certainly did love the piles of trash that were left on top of or next to the trash cans by frustrated visitors. Now I think that the trash can designers finally have the winning design (see below). No fancy hidden latches, but a fairly heavy lid that covers the entire top of the square can. If the raccoon tries to open it from on top, then their own weight and the lid’s weight will keep it closed. A side attack doesn’t work either, because the tops of the cans are too high to be reached from the ground by even the tallest raccoons, and the cans don’t have any lip for the acrobatic raccoons to hang on as they lift the lid.
So, as we phase in these new-design cans, the pickings for those furry folks who are used to dining out on our leftovers will become much slimmer. That is the reason days like today are a smorgasbord feast for our evening “clean-up crew”.
Margi Jenks is working on her “next” career as a park interpreter. For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes. So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.