Clean up the ditches

Reno has many amenities to recommend to outdoor enthusiasts, and one of its best is the system of canals, like the Steamboat Ditch, and its associated trails. Those trails allow urbanites to quickly connect with nature in ways that many cities lack.

That being said, conditions around those ditches have deteriorated in recent years, with the primary causes being drought and fire. The lack of vegetation has also increased the visibility of litter, illegal dumping and dog manure. Most of the litter almost certainly is not left by trail users, but it gets blown in during windstorms.

These factors raise several issues. First, a short walk on the ditch trail makes it very obvious that the canyons around the ditches in Southwest Reno, particularly the ones that have not burned in recent fires, are wildfires waiting to happen. Homeowners who live nearby should be careful to make their properties as resistant to fires as possible. Among other things, that includes removing dead bushes and trees and not allowing leaves to pile up under decks or in gutters. More information can be found at

The cottonwoods in the washes killed by fires also need to be addressed. As they dry out, they become better fuel, and fires that wouldn’t typically be hot enough may now ignite them. When burned-out areas are not replanted with desirable plants, undesirable plants like cheatgrass grow. Cheatgrass burns more easily and more often. While it’s obvious there have been some efforts to control erosion, particularly using those long, straw wattles, it appears more revegetation is necessary to preserve the integrity of those hillsides, and decrease the chance of more wildfires.

And while the trails are used by many Northern Nevadans, they are not maintained by government agencies as parks are. That means nobody is responsible to clean up the plastic shopping bags or cardboard boxes that get flung into the washes by the wind. In fact, it appears the Steamboat Ditch Company, which maintains the canal, worsens the problem by trimming the willows that line the ditch, leaving them in piles upon which detritus catches, and which worsens the fire risks for nearby homeowners.

It’s up to people who use the trail to keep it clean. If they would choose one day a year to take a garbage bag out, and just voluntarily clean up a section, the trail could easily be maintained and beautiful. Since most of it is not public land, it’s unlikely that a group clean-up day will ever be planned. It’s up to those of us who use it.

And finally, why do we have to bring up the issue of the dog poop? Those who want to walk their dog on the ditch have at least a minimum responsibility to clean up their animals’ excrement. Show a little common courtesy. Nobody wants to see or accidentally step in that stuff.

The ditch trails around Reno are a great amenity, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting shut down for public use. Already some homeowners have put up fences on the easement, and it’s not that hard to imagine others wanting to eliminate the strangers from their backyards. Keeping the area clear of trash and maintained against fire may help alleviate these issues.