Feature Article - October 2003
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Rest(rooms) for the Weary

Patrons may be wary of them and vandals love them, which means outdoor restroom facilities require careful planning

By Kyle Ryan

A traditional double restroom with log post and beam porch located in Sahalie Falls, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

Even by Colorado standards, Mueller State Park near Colorado Springs is breathtaking. It stretches more than 5,000 acres with majestic mountain vistas and includes more than 50 miles of multiuse trails. There's so much to like: the streams, the fresh air, the wildlife, the groves of aspen trees, the restrooms.

Top: A multiflush facility with two stalls per room for larger volumes of people  Middle: The interior of a flush facility  Bottom: A double vault restroom, where underneath the building, two large vaults hold the waste.

The park has both vault and flush varieties. A downright luxury.

If you're a camper, flush restrooms mean a lot, like an air of civilization in the wilderness, 20th-century technology in timeless woods. But if you're under the impression outdoor restroom facilities don't matter all that much, try stepping into the feculent recesses of a poorly maintained outhouse in a park.

Once you've hosed down afterward, you'll realize there's more to restroom planning than you might have imagined. Every day, everywhere, people have to go. It's a certainty, so you better plan for it thoroughly.

Do you know how many people will use it? Do you have access to plumbing? What about environmental concerns? Oh, and make sure it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even if it's way out in the backcountry where only swarthy types tread. Vandalism is a whole other can of worms. Forget mere graffiti, let's just say people like to bomb these things sometimes.

All these issues may seem daunting, leaving you to wonder if people could just go in the bushes and save you the trouble. But we humans are a highly evolved species, capable of disposing of our waste in a tidy, efficient and environmentally friendly way. Plus, with a plethora of new, prefabricated buildings at your disposal, it's quite simple to accommodate our biological processes.

Before you start, figure out how many people will be using the facility because it's a common mistake to underestimate that. If you have a parking lot, multiply its capacity by 3.4—that will give you a general idea.

"We see where people are placing a restroom and think usage will be very low," says Alex Rachak, president of a company that manufactures waste-treatment systems and restroom facilities. "And all of a sudden, [usage] is three times what they estimated. Once it's in, you can't make it any bigger."