SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever been stuck outdoors when nature calls?

If so, the recently launched GottaGoUtah.Org has you covered. The website is an online guide intended to educate people on how to responsibly handle their waste on Utah public lands. 

It is the product of a yearlong collaborative effort by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Quality, Utah State University Extension Water Quality program, the Southeast Utah Health Department and the Utah Water Quality Task Force.

They have highlighted human waste as a growing problem in Utah.

“Last year I had a student worker do sort of a needs assessment,” said Nancy Mesner, a watershed sciences professor at USU and a contributor to the project. “She contacted a bunch of the different land management agencies around the state and just asked them, ‘Is this a problem, human waste?’ And oh my goodness did she get an earful. Almost everyone said, ‘Oh thank goodness someone’s going to do something about this.’”

For years, Utah lands have seen increased numbers of people recreating, and COVID-19 has had even more of a burgeoning effect.

“It’s not like everyone did it correctly years ago and suddenly they’re not,” said Amber Qalagari, a public information officer for the Department of Environmental Quality. “It is really just an increase in people wanting to get outdoors.”

GottaGoUtah.Org is largely about helping people make informed decisions and is designed with Utah’s outdoors in mind, specifically. It provides instructions on how to handle waste in forests, deserts and alpine areas for people who are unaware of the proper etiquette. It also has tips for RV waste disposal and an up-to-date RV dump site map.

Even “specific situations,” such as winter activities, climbing and paddling trips have sections on the website.

“We’re in the business of trying to anticipate what the barriers are, you know, what gets in the way of people doing the right thing, and then try to remove all of those barriers,” Mesner said. “Knowing what to do is a big one. That’s the first one.”

The hope is that people are able to leave Utah’s public lands in the condition they found them.

“We really do want to push that this is just a group effort; we are all in it together to keep our water and our lands clean,” Qalagari said. “And this is such a simple way to do it. And I really do think that sometimes it is purely education.”

The website emphasizes three universal tips to help people who are trying to enjoy the Utah outdoors do so safely and responsibly. 

  1. Know before you go: Use maps to plan out your trip and look online for proper waste disposal methods and equipment.
  2. Be prepared: Before you leave, determine how you will properly dispose of your waste during or after your trip.
  3. Go before you go: A great first step to protecting other recreationists, wildlife and the environment is to just go before you go by using a bathroom or outhouse before you begin your trip.

“Really the big thing with this is we want everyone to be able to experience the outdoors, but everyone has to play a part,” Qalagari said.