A Facebook post garnered lots of media attention last week

Campsite mess at Big Silver cleaned up by school volunteers

Cleanup last weekend by volunteers to fix mess left by high school students

Tracy Holmes – Black Press

Surrey high school students – including at least some from Earl Marriott Secondary in South Surrey – were the target of wide-spread criticism last week, after word and photos of a mess apparently left by grads at a Harrison Lake’s Big Silver campsite over the long weekend hit social media.

But students and others were also quick to defend their peers and the school, urging critics not to judge them all on the actions of a few, and pledging to make things right.

“I think we can all agree that what happened is both unfortunate and disgusting regardless of who partook,” Jonah Mandin, in Grade 11 at EMS, posted on Facebook Friday.

“… I understand that it really doesn’t matter who was there and who wasn’t. We are a community and we all let this happen, the blame game will not solve any problems. Moreover, I would love to help clean-up and do whatever I can to help make things right.

“That being said, I feel that this prejudicial assault against our school is completely unnecessary… We represent a lot more than this isolated event, and I’m sure many of us can’t wait to prove it.”

Photos posted to Facebook of the post-party campsite showed a scene littered with garbage, smashed bottles and more. The post described “smashed beer bottles, used condoms and empty bags of cocaine (straw included) all over otherwise pristine wilderness.”

Comments that followed ranged from “you can’t fix stupid” and “maddening”, to doubts EMS students acted alone.

“I see a sign that says (Cloverdale), I highly doubt all of this trash is from EMS,” writes Robert Gabes. “OTHER people do use this place you know? I have gone up in the summer way after the school season and seen ALOT worse.”

Thursday, principal Ken Hignall addressed the issue directly to students, calling on those involved to “do the right thing” and volunteer to go back and clean up.

In a letter posted to the school’s website, Hignell emphasized that such camping trips are not school-sanctioned, are not supervised and “have nothing to do with the school except to the extent the teens attend one.”

Doug Strachan, spokesman for the Surrey School District, described the effort to rally students, parents and staff to return and restore the site as an “extraordinary step,” and said it’s unfortunate that the same degree of attention – from the public and media alike – is not given to the school’s charitable efforts.

“That’s what the school’s about,” he told Black Press Friday, noting a cleanup team headed up that afternoon.

Strachan said the mess “was as much of a frustration and embarrassment for the school as it was for anybody that came across it and the people who saw it.”

“We’re as appalled by that as anybody else,” he said.

Hignell states that he was alerted to the mess on Thursday, by a member of a local four-wheel-drive association, and agreed there was no excuse for it.

“Simply put, the camping teens were irresponsible and rude in leaving a huge mess,” he writes.

Similar calls and emails continued throughout the day, he states, describing concerns regarding safety of site users and impact to the environment as “justified and real.”

One of the photos posted was of an EMS rugby ball, and captain Liam Sullivan stepped up to apologize on behalf of the team, via a Twitter post.

“As captain of the EMS Rugby team, I am saddened that the conduct of a neglectful few has dampened the image of an overall phenomenal graduating class. The photo of the EMS rugby ball, while not in any way a direct reflection on EMS Rugby as a whole, shows a direct involvement in the problem,” Sullivan writes.

“I would like to apologize, on behalf of EMS Rugby, and the EMS Class of 2015, for the mess left at Harrison Lake. We do not claim responsibility, nor admit to our partaking in the mess, but as EMS rugby was represented at some point in this disgraceful way, several members of the EMS rugby team will partake this weekend in helping to clean up the mess left behind.”

Area C Director Alec Niemi is writing a letter to the principal of EMS, to let him know while people are always welcome to come to our community, we expect it to be left in good condition.

“Pack it in, pack it out,” Niemi urges visitors. “Harrison Lake is a natural paradise that is truly unique and spectacular,” and he wants it kept that way.

Niemi applauds local 4×4 group members who continually do clean-up along the forest service roads and camping hot spots, including at Big Silver.

– with files from Lorene Keitch