Cleanup underway at Mirror Lake Highway’s Fairy Forest
September 27, 2016
As Scott Hayes grew older, he gradually forgot about the once-secluded rock garden in the Uinta Mountains that he created with his friends when they were teenagers.
"We've gotten older and had kids and families. We literally haven't been up there in like four years at least," said Hayes, who lives in the Salt Lake area.
But over the summer, Hayes read a news report detailing the amount of trash that now covers the nearly 3-acre area referred to as the Fairy Forest. The spot, located near mile marker 17 on the Mirror Lake Highway, has become widely popular over the years attracting hundreds of visitors.
"People are now going up there with spray-paint and just tagging the rocks," he said. "After reading that report, I decided that it needed to be cleaned up."
“We may have moved some rocks into a path, but it’s not like I was vandalizing the place. If I knew this is what this was going to turn into I wish I would have never started it."
Since August, Hayes and other volunteers have spent their weekends cleaning up the Fairy Forest in the hopes of removing as much trash as possible. He said at least one person is out there every weekend.
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"I want to make the biggest dent we can. When you go out there, you see how big it's gotten," Hayes said. "There are probably close to 10,000 rocks that are painted. When we started this, I never envisioned all the painting and offerings.
"It has become crazy," he said.
When Hayes was a teenager in 1997, he and some friends decided to start a rock garden along the trail that led out of the Shady Dell Campground. The boys often frequented the area on the weekends to fish, he said.
"We were hanging out up there when my friend went fishing so I decided I wanted to build some rocks around myself," Hayes said. "When we first started, it was really small. We'd build some couches or chairs out of rocks. Make a new path. We didn't think it would be anything that it is today. But after about three summers, we decided we were done because we didn't want it to be humongous.
"The biggest it ever got would be around 1,500 square feet," he said. "Now the problem is, as my friend put it very eloquently, it has become the Twitter of the forest. Everyone wants to go and put their name on the rock and mark their spot."
Hayes said he was always taught to "leave no trace behind." He said he made a mistake when he moved those first rocks from one part of the forest to the other.
"But we used backpacks. We used our hands," he said. "We never brought anything in from the city and never left anything. We may have moved some rocks into a path, but it's not like I was vandalizing the place. If I knew this is what this was going to turn into I wish I would have never started it."
The U.S. Forest Service says it supports Hayes' efforts to actively discourage people from bringing outside objects into the forest, including painted rocks. Jeff Schramm, a district ranger with the Heber-Kamas Ranger District, said the Forest Service is also planning to install signs in the spring to remind people not to leave items behind.
"In the past, the Forest Service has gone up there every year for the past few years, generally during the fall to clean up what people have left, but we won't discourage anyone from going up there and cleaning up," Schramm said. "We are starting to see more paining of rocks outside of that area now and there is paint being left on our picnic tables. It's starting to expand.
"What I have been trying to promote is for people to come out and enjoy the National Forest and experience what it has to offer outside of painting rocks or making the little shrines or monuments," Schramm.
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