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Choppers carry critical loads during ‘Helipoo’ day at Zion National Park

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Posted at 9:54 PM, Feb 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-20 23:54:40-05

ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah - Helicopter rides above Zion National Park are common for tourists, but Thursday a pilot took on a different mission, something park employees affectionately call  “Helipoo day.”

“We are actually removing the human waste off of Scout Lookout,” Park Spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said.

The two evaporative toilets on top of Scout Lookout have to be emptied by hand, and because the lookout is close to 1,000 feet up, it can only be done once a year, by air. The park closed the trail, which also leads to Angels Landing, while helicopters took up 15 drum barrels, and a contracted septic company pumped the waste out.

“We can only really do this once a year because flying up to Scout, there is a lot of other issues going on,” Baltrus said. “For instance, the condors are out there, peregrine falcon. In order to not mess with any of their nesting."

Managers said this trail that leads up to Scout Lookout has grown in popularity, but the restroom facilities up at the top remain the same. And they’re not equipped to handle that increase in tourists.

“The evaporative toilets that are up there were really only made to take in about 50 people per day,” Baltrus said.  “And they’re seeing 400 per day.”

Often hikers will find them closed because they’ve reached their capacity. Visitors are urged to use facilities at trail heads, but when nature calls, hikers are glad those emergency facilities are there, and that someone is willing to clean them out.

“I think they’re doing a good job,” hiker Jean Ni said. “It’s better than people taking a little break up there wherever they choose. I know that’s a problem at some trail heads.”

The trail will close once more on Monday morning, when the helicopter comes back to bring the full barrels back down.