A plan requiring Eagan parkgoers to bring their trash home rather than toss it in garbage cans is frustrating residents, who say their neighborhood parks are now filled with orphaned dog poop bags and abandoned water bottles.
About a month ago, the city implemented the "Pack In, Pack Out" initiative in hopes it would save money and result in people bringing fewer disposable items to parks.
The program removed trash cans in 11 of 60 parks and brought Eagan into compliance with a county ordinance, updated in 2019, requiring cities to provide a recycling receptacle for every trash can at city facilities.
But the idea angers and annoys some residents, who have complained on social media and contacted the city to say it's not working.
Lauren McKliget said she now sees dog poop bags on the ground and garbage by the basketball court at Slater Acres Park.
She said she doesn't know if it's the result of parkgoers' confusion or "people taking a stand" against the policy. "It's just disgusting," she said.
Andrew Pimental, Eagan's parks and recreation director, said city officials initially saw the program as a win-win, helping the environment and saving taxpayer dollars.
"And then all hell broke loose," he said, citing complaints.
A vocal group of upset Eaganites have sent Pimental about 20 e-mails so far, he said. The parks superintendent received the same number, though some might be duplicates, Pimental said.
If not for "Pack In, Pack Out," efforts to comply with the county policy would require the city to buy another garbage truck and hire someone to operate it. This is in addition to purchasing the required 240 recycling bins to accompany park trash cans, Pimental said. He estimated the total cost at $250,000.
"Pack In, Pack Out" is similar to the "leave no trace" philosophy adopted by backpackers and Boy Scouts, he said.
Pimental said his department recently worked out a compromise to appease residents, who are mostly peeved about the dog waste situation. City staff have added a few dog waste stations, which include doggy bags and a small container for disposal, at parks. One will be added to every park without garbage cans, Pimental said, unless parkgoers embrace "Pack In, Pack Out" at a certain park.
The city always planned to make changes to the plan as needed, he said, adding that he thinks it's too early to judge its effectiveness.
"I know that time heals … [and] allows people to accept and adapt," he said.
Dakota County Commissioner Laurie Halverson, whose district includes Eagan, said she's heard residents say that a recent change to Dakota County policy spurred Eagan's initiative, which isn't exactly the case.
The county's amended 2019 ordinance echoes a 1989 state law requiring one recycling bin per garbage can, she said.
But compliance varies among Dakota County cities and even among various city sites, Halverson said, citing Eagan's recycling and compost bins at the community center.
Recently, the county directed cities to self-assess their trash and recycling practices and create a plan to comply with the county ordinance. She's not aware of a "drop dead" date to do it, she said.
"The county is standing ready to assist with compliance," Halverson said. "There's time, there's financial assistance."
The county provided $86,000 for recycling, including containers, to Eagan in 2021, according to county spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert.
On Friday afternoon, cleanliness varied at a few Eagan parks. A pile of three dog waste bags sat by the Slater Acres Park trail, though the remainder was spotless.
At Lexington Park, Josh LaCroix, who lives across the street, said the park is always fairly clean. "We all live close, so we just throw our garbage at our own house," he said.
Cinnamon Ridge Park was trash-free, but Belainesh Admas said that's not always the case.
"Most of the days, if you go in the afternoon or evening, you will see a lot of [wrappers and water bottles]," she said.
Ariel Larpenteur called Eagan's program "a weird step." Even parks that have trash cans have a litter problem, she said.
Jeff Petricka said he's most disappointed that city officials didn't ask for public input on the change.
Joan Kennedy has lived in Eagan for decades. She's "pretty adamant" about her disdain for "Pack In, Pack Out," she said.
"It's just idiotic," she said. "It's not going to work."
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781