‘Outdoor interest has outpaced outdoor awareness’; Dixie State professor aims to inspire care of nature

Nigel the Litter Hunter picks up trash | Illustration by Alex Chamberlain, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Compelled by a passion and love of the great outdoors, a Dixie State University professor and a fellow outdoor photographer have collaborated to create an illustrated book teaching wilderness ethics to children.

Nigel the Litter Hunter picks up trash | Illustration by Alex Chamberlain, St. George News

Illustrated by Alex Chamberlain, a professor of illustration and photography, and photographer Phill Monson, “Nigel the Litter Hunter” features a character named Nigel who begins to stumble upon large swaths of trash at his favorite nature spots. Early in the book, Nigel throws back his head and shouts a question at the sky: who’s going to clean up this mess?

As the narrative unfolds, Nigel comes across a “sentient litter grabber” who tells Nigel that it’s up to him to clean up the trash and become a steward for the great outdoors.

The idea for this project was conceptualized out of a growing need Chamberlain and Monson found in visiting treasured hiking and photogenic places in Utah that were being encroached by plastic bags, beer cans, campfire remnants and other trash. Their hope is to instill the importance of not only not littering but also leaving places better than they were found.

Monson and Chamberlain have a relationship that dates back to when they served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ireland. After returning, they realized they both shared an interest in outdoor photography, Chamberlain told St. George News.

Nigel the Litter Hunter picks up trash | Illustration by Alex Chamberlain, St. George News

Many of the sites they visited throughout the years were places like Escalante and Zion National Park that afforded a type of solitude that is becoming rarer.

“More people enjoying the public lands is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “But with that, Phil always phrases is it: outdoor interest has outpaced outdoor awareness.”

Chamberlain added that he noticed people are also less prepared. “We’ll be coming back from a slot canyon, and we’ll see people who just aren’t geared up for it properly. They don’t have enough water, and people are parking on cryptobiotic soil.”

He said he doesn’t think this is caused by maliciousness, but rather a lack of understanding.

“We found that getting angry on social media and calling people out – that doesn’t change anybody’s mind,” Chamberlain said. “So, we tried to come up with a more positive way to do it.”

Nigel the Litter Hunter picks up trash | Illustration by Alex Chamberlain, St. George News

Monson came up with a YouTube personality named Nigel Dundee the Litter Hunter, where Monson dresses up as this character and organizes community cleanups of favored places in nature.

While Chamberlain said the YouTube channel and videos haven’t exactly gone viral yet, the community cleanups have gained a lot of traction.

“This is a good way to make a difference and inspire people to take ownership. These are our public lands, and even if someone made a mess, I can clean it up. I can make a difference.”

Monson told St. George News that for him, this project started a few years ago when he started noticing an increase in litter at frequented areas. As a way to spread public awareness, he started documenting himself on Instagram picking up litter.

He said that through this, he found that “what really resonated with people was if it was funny, engaging and entertaining in some way.”

Out of this observation, Monson said he came up with Nigel, an Australian guy.

Phill Monson poses as Nigel Dundee the Litter Hunter, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Kickstarter page, St. George News

“I go out and wear kind of the outfit from the Muldoon character from ‘Jurassic Park,'” he said. “I got the short shorts, the knee-high socks, and I go out and I hunt litter.”

Monson said he uses this content as a way to engage people to follow him, which helps illuminate litter issues not just in Utah but everywhere. Throughout this experience, he discovered the depth of the problem.

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost this notion that litter is bad,” he said. “Litter should not be anywhere, but in particular, not in our public lands.”

The most challenging part of this project has been in getting the story right, Monson said. “The main thing is, we wanted to make this story timeless and something kids would enjoy and parents would enjoy reading to their kids. And that it would be influential and inspirational for everyone.”

Monson and Chamberlain have launched a Kickstarter project in order to help with the funding and marketing needs of self-publishing. They hope that this will, in turn, be the first book of many in a series about stewarding the earth and wilderness preparedness.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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