Old mattresses, ratty couches and junky refrigerators have all been dumped along public trails and in the wetlands and open spaces of Lino Lakes.

“It happens more often than you think,” said KC Kye, Lino Lakes recycling program assistant. “It’s a really big public nuisance.”

Sometimes the dumping is less obvious but no less damaging. Mounds of grass clippings, sod, old Christmas trees, rotting pumpkins and food discarded in the city’s open space change the ecology of the ponds and wetlands. It also detracts from nature — the very reason many people say they moved to the Anoka County suburb in the first place.

“The algae and water gets really rank,” said Kye, explaining that they make the trails less enticing during the hot summer months.

Lino Lakes and other cities give residents a low-cost way to do the right thing.

To stop illegal dumping, Lino Lakes started hosting recycling days the third Saturday of each month and a larger annual spring recycling day — this year on May 2 at the Public Works Building, 1189 Main St. People can drop off old mattresses and furniture for free and tires, electronics and appliances for nominal fees starting at $5.

In addition, during the weekend of April 25-26, the city in concert with the Clearwater Creek Neighborhood will hold its second yard waste and organics recycling event to encourage neighbors to dispose of leaves, grass clipping and yard waste properly. The city will haul in a semi-sized recycling bin next to the playground so residents can dispose of yard waste as well as help pick up grass, brush and branches illegally dumped in the adjacent wetlands. The 400 homes of the Clearwater Creek subdivision are ringed by city-owned nature preserve wetlands and a walking path. Many back yards border the nature preserve and some residents have used that access to dump.

Kye said all three efforts have been wildly successful. Instead of simply focusing on enforcement, the idea is to give residents an easy, inexpensive alternative to dumping. At the last recycling event, the city filled the bin in less than an hour.

At a recycling event last year, the city collected nearly 80 old mattresses, which are taken to a facility where they are taken apart and their components recycled.

Neighboring Blaine also hosts monthly recycling days, on the third Saturday of each month at Aquatore Park. Appliances, electronics and tires are accepted for a small fee starting at $5. The city works with scrap haulers, so the events simply cost the city staff time.

“We offer the opportunity for people to get rid of stuff that might be pretty expensive to get rid of at the curb or may not even be collected at the curb,” said Roark Haver, Blaine recycling coordinator.

During the heavier spring and fall months, the city has collected as many as 100 old appliances on a given Saturday.

“They are pretty popular. We consistently get quite a bit of material,” Haver said. “We have a steady flow of vehicles.”

Less clear-cut

Most folks know tossing an old refrigerator into the ditch is a no-no, but grass clippings and leaves — that’s less clear-cut. One Lino Lakes neighborhood organizer, fearful that this kind of dumping is destroying the natural resources in the city, is taking action.

Michelle Sylvander said access to nature is what drew her and her family to the Clearwater Creek area.

“We share the neighborhood with wildlife,” Sylvander said “I just love it. You see deer, coyotes, turkey. … I love the sounds of the neighborhood. It changes through the seasons. There are so many ponds. In the spring you can hear the frogs like one giant heartbeat.”

But the sight and smell of rotting grass clippings, leaves, pumpkins and Christmas trees made some parts of the trail uninviting. And when she started as the office manager for Capitol Region Watershed District, she realized all this organic material was harming the ecology and wildlife. The excessive nutrients from these materials promote algae blooms that kill off other plants and wildlife. Years of dumping increases sediment and raises the pond beds, again choking out native species.

“That is when I started to learned how much damage people were doing dumping their leaves into the ponds and wetlands,” Sylvander said.

She has helped organize the two neighborhood yard-waste and organics pickup events. During the first one last fall, Boy Scouts and neighbors cleaned up dump sites along the trails. Neighbors were also invited to dump yard waste into a bin located near the playground.

Sylvander said many folks believe dumping yard waste is not harmful. She recalls her dad dumping grass clippings into a nearby pond as a child.

“He figured it was a natural material that will break down,” Sylvander said.

“People think they are composting. If you are not turning and flipping it, it’s not composting; it’s dumping.”

The sheer volume of material is also a problem. The wetlands cannot handle yard waste each season from even a fraction of the neighborhood’s 400 homes.

During a tour of the trails last week, Kye said he hopes the word is getting out that neighbors view the open space and trails as a distinctive resource to the area, not a dump site

“It’s a nature preserve. We need to protect it.” Sylvander said.