If you have ever been to the dunes, regardless of what state you go to, there is one common problem: trash. Trash becomes a bigger problem as more people head to the dunes to enjoy their toys.
More trash is getting left behind and not picked up. In a day and age where off-road land is getting shut down, this is not a good trend for everyone who enjoys the sand. Dillon McHugh of Dirt Life Media has been out in the dunes cleaning up but also helping educate the dune community.
“I started living on the road full-time Thanksgiving of 2021, and I was able to stay and ride after the crowds had left and enjoy them to myself,” McHugh said. “But that allowed me to see the dark reality of what our community does to these gorgeous places.”
If you are on social media, you have probably seen some of McHugh’s videos showing the amount of trash, nails, broken belts, and more left in the dunes after a packed weekend. The clean-up effort is something we can all help, but McHugh knew he needed something to get it going.
Creating The Ultimate Trash Pick-Up Machine
Wanting to make the dunes cleaner after seeing how the dunes were left, McHugh knew he needed something to help make the clean-up efforts easier. McHugh turned to his vehicle that he had with him and turned it into the ultimate trash machine.
“I currently have a 2022 Polaris RZR Pro R two-seater that we have customized from bumper to bumper and beyond,” McHugh said. “I have been fortunate to partner with some of the industry's best companies to build out a pretty awesome car.”
“I teamed up with Jax Metal Fabrication out of Medford, Oregon, to bring my giant sweeper magnet to life. We utilized a SuperATV snow plow and winch, then fabricated the rest. We run 10 feet wide overall, and with our trash trailer in tow, we have six Buggy Whips lighting us up.”
“Our trash trailer started life as a $600 Facebook marketplace find, and we have made it work until we get our fully custom one from TrailTrailersUSA. We haul two trash and two recyclables bins on the trailer, totaling 220 gallons of space for dune trash.”
“The current setup is sitting on wheels and tires from Packard Performance. The SDS tires allow the car to float, even with all the extra weight. Even our trash trailer is on Price Design's wheels wrapped in Packards. Some of the industries best cared about this build, and we made it fun and cool to have an impact on as many as possible.”
McHugh’s Pro R is something you do not see every day but was built for handling the dunes and the trash left behind.
Pulling Trash From The Sand
The amount of trash that McHugh has found isn’t just a one-day clean-up. It is something that takes a lot more time to clean up. With the size of Glamis alone, McHugh pulled trash, nails, and belts out for weeks.
“This is a big fight, and we're looking at multiple issues, but trying to show people how important it is to be respectful of our areas, not abusive,” McHugh said. “The first thing is education and prevention. We are trying to teach people the harm they are causing our OHV areas, with some of the behavior that is becoming an increasing issue. Pallet burning is something we are focusing our educational efforts on.”
“Wildly enough, some community members do not or did not see the correlation between having huge pallet bonfires and leaving behind thousands of nails. We are also pushing heavily on not throwing cans and bottles in your bonfires as they do not melt. I picked up thousands of can tops and bottoms while walking with my trash grabber and a bucket.”
“Our second focus is reclamation. There are specific areas in Glamis that desperately need our help. We have spent countless hours and miles on foot, hand-picking garbage from the sand and bushes.”
What McHugh found in Glamis wasn’t just something he said was there; he went and cleaned up the dunes. He not only cleaned up, but he showed just how much he had pulled out of the sand.
“I drove my Polaris RZR Pro R with the custom-built front-mounted magnet on the front for miles and miles,” McHugh said. “In three months of living out in Glamis, we got out well over 1,600 pounds in nails, over 400 pounds of aluminum cans tops and bottoms, and literally thousands of pounds in garbage saved from the dunes utilizing our custom trash trailer behind the Pro R.”
Those numbers alone show there is a bigger problem than most people realize. Many things can easily be done to help reduce the amount of trash left behind.
“One of the biggest trash issues in Glamis is the normal camp trash being left behind, but this is becoming an increasing problem at OHV areas all over the country,” McHugh said. “This isn't a Glamis-specific issue. This is the entire off-road communities issue. We need to practice pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace methods everywhere.”
“Another issue is tied to the growth of the UTV market exploding, and with that growth comes more people. We now have more people bringing more stuff further out into the deserts than before. People can bring these items out with them, and we need to be better about bringing all of our items back with us.”
Cleaning up isn’t as challenging as it sounds, and there are a lot of things everyone can individually do to help. It is about everyone doing their part and making the dunes a better place.
“Everyone can help,” McHugh said. “The easiest way to help keep our dunes open and clean is following these two timeless phrases: pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace. And for those wanting to go a step further, if you see it, pick it up.”
“Nobody is above bending over and grabbing something to help keep our areas clean. These are public lands. As the public, we need to do better at taking care of our own. Next time your crew is getting ready to leave, walk your area and be sure you're leaving it better than you found it.”
McHugh isn’t done cleaning up Glamis. He plans to continue these clean-up efforts this upcoming season. He plans to be out there all season and provide weekly update videos for everyone to see the progress being made.
Cleaning Up Beyond Glamis
After leaving Glamis, McHugh looked to take his clean-up efforts bigger and to more places. Seeing the need to educate and clean up, McHugh wanted to engage more with the community and created something everyone could get involved with.
“Since I left Glamis, we have tried to engage more of our offroad and dune community through our OHV cleaning competitions, The Trash Games,” McHugh said. “Our first organized cleanup was at the Little Sahara Rec Area in Nephi, Utah for UTV Invasion.”
“We did a ‘pail of nails or bag of dune trash,’ and you were entered to win $500 cash or a Stacyc 12E for those eight and under. This was a lot of fun and had kids and adults running all over the vendor's row and the camping areas with magnets and grabbers. It was an awesome event and left a lasting impression on many families. The winner was a little girl who strapped a rolling magnet to her youth ATV and drug that around all weekend, collecting over 32 pounds of nails.”
The success of the first Trash Games wasn’t just seen at UTV Invasion. It was seen outside the event.
“UTV Takeover called me after our efforts in Utah and wanted us to do something similar,” McHugh said. “Timing was tight, but we made it work for Coos Bay. This was the rollout of The Trash Games, and we had over $25,000 in prizes to give away, including cages, bumpers, batteries, whips, and winches.
“We make picking up trash fun through our scavenger hunt-like cleanups we call Categorical Cleaning Competition. We had 54 participants in Coos Bay, which cleaned up over 1,300 pounds of trash from the dunes.”
The Trash Games continued, and the next event McHugh held them at was Dunefest in Winchester Bay, Oregon.
“The Trash Games was on Sunday of the event, and we started the day off with a Cans 4 Kidz recycling drive,” McHugh said. “We had been passing out bags prelabeled for CASA for Children of Douglas County, Oregon, asking people not to throw their empties away but instead donate them to an awesome cause.”
“Our goal was a $250 donation through 2,500 cans, and we crushed it. Fifty-two 55-gallon bags full of cans and bottles all went to help more kids. We then had another awesome Trash Games, where we gave away more prizes with more categories than before. The Winchester Bay Sand Dunes were cleaner than ever pulling out.”
Dirt Life Media and McHugh are heading to Idaho for UTV Invasion Labor Day weekend.
“We have a few more events left on the summer schedule before we make our way down to Mother Glamis, and I cannot wait to be back,” McHugh said. “Nowhere feels like home more than GTown does. We are about two months out from Halloween weekend, prep is in full swing, and I can almost feel the sand in my toes.”
McHugh wanted to leave us to share one last thing with everyone, which is something that we can all get behind this upcoming dune season.
“You can't always take,” McHugh said. “Life, the world, and the dunes do not work like that. Make sure you're giving back to the places that matter in your life. Spend some time this season appreciating the dunes for all they have given you, and dedicate some time to making them better for all to continue to enjoy.”
McHugh would like to thank all of his sponsors which have played a huge part in his success and include DRT Motorsports, SF Raceworks, Buggy Whips, Packard Performance, Price Designs, SuperATV, Dirt Bag Brands, Rugged Radios, Razorback Technology, Ultimax Belts, Assault Industries, MTS Off Road, Prismatic Powder Coatings, Jax Metal Fabrication, WCI Offroad, 106 Motorsports, Rear Light Bar, and Misfit Garage. For more information on what McHugh is accomplishing and how you can help, be sure to check out his social media and website.