Editor’s Note: The Great American Outdoors Act provides the Forest Service with new opportunities to improve outdoor recreation for our visitors, including repairs and upgrades to vital infrastructure.
Sometimes the awe of trees sweeping up a mountain side or unbelievable rock formations around the bend get all the attention amid the allure of national forests and grasslands. Yet sometimes it’s the simpler amenities that inspire joy — like the beauty of a new toilet and hand water pump on the Stanislaus National Forest in California.
These updated conveniences are part of the Southern Sierra Campground project that includes five locations to replace and upgrade day use site toilets. The project is supported by Great American Outdoors Act funding.
A small group of curious campers watched as workers installed the upgraded facility at the Highland Lakes Campground. What they likely did not realize is that the model is a next-generation vault toilet that drastically reduces odors compared with older models.
“This technology works by using sunlight to heat the roof, which pulls air flow up to the roof chamber,” said Kat Baker, assistant forest engineer. This means more air flow up and out, and less unwanted smell lingering inside.
The structure also provides improved resistance to vandals and natural factors, such as falling trees, limbs and snow – a serious concern in the area. Older metal-housed toilets often give out from the heavy snowpack. Having installed this next-generation toilet during the summer months when the ground is easier to dig, it will still be standing strong when Highland Lakes Campground reopens in June 2023.
“The precast concrete and layout make the vault toilet resistant to rot and degradation while also offering accessibility to those with disabilities,” Baker said. “Combined, all these factors address some of our most common maintenance requests and allow us to assign facilities maintenance resources to other needs.”
Getting the new toilet to the campsite over steep, narrow roads also drew onlookers. The crew even encountered a herd of cows that lingered on the road. Once the cows moved along, the big rig used to carry the parts lumbered up the hill.
“This is a three-trip project,” said Nicole Thompson, a Forest Service civil engineer. “They bring up the concrete vault first, then the wall unit, and finally the roof. This way they don’t get stuck from being loaded too heavily.”
So narrow is the road that tree limbs had to be cut back in some areas to enable the truck to pass through.
Ron Linzey, of San Andreas, California, made his first visit to the campsite at the same time of the installation.
“It’s nice to see maintenance taking place and campgrounds taken care of,” Linzey said. “My wife always makes sure our campsite is near a good toilet, especially with young children. And we’re hoping to be the first ones to use this new one.”
In addition to the replacing the new toilet, a smaller project is underway further down the hill. A 1980s era water hand pump also needs swapped out. Stanislaus National Forest boasts 17 hand pumps, offering visitors the convenience of clean water throughout the forest.
“With all these projects, big and small, there’s lots of moving parts,” Baker noted. “It’s pretty cool to see projects getting done from everyone’s hard work. The smiles from campers say it all!”
The USDA Forest Service will invest nearly $55 million in funding to support 41 projects across California and Hawaii, as part of the $503 million in GAOA-funded investments across Forest Service-managed lands nationwide. Explore overviews of the work on the Forest Service projects dashboard.