Design Build - ROMO Backcountry Privies

ROMO Backcountry Privies

Will Koning & Rick Sommerfeld, University of Colorado Denver


Long’s Peak, the tallest and most iconic mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, has become one of the most frequented 14ers in the State of Colorado. To better deal with human waste on this historic trail, the National Park Service (NPS) installed their first backcountry toilet in 1983. Since its installation 35 years ago there have been few technological advances while visitation to the park has nearly doubled, from 2.5 million visitors in 1982 to 4.5 million in 2016. The aging technology has deteriorated in the harsh climate to the point that waste is now required to be removed by shovel full, placed into five gallon buckets, and carried down the mountain using llamas.

Determined to find a better privy design, and a more humane solution of collecting waste, NPS collaborated to re-design and construct new backcountry privies.
To ensure the project’s success, NPS created an inter-disciplinary team (IDT) to provide feedback to the students throughout the process. [Name redacted] additionally reached out to a structural engineer, welding engineer, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) to provide additional consultation during design and construction.

The new Long’s Peak Privies explore lightweight prefabricated construction and emerging methods of waste collection to minimize the human footprint in Colorado’s backcountry. The final design solution is a series of prefabricated structural gabion walls. Within the gabions, a series of thin steel plate moment frames triangulate the lateral loads within the structure while stones, collected on-site, are used as ballast. This innovative construction assembly allows for rapid on-site construction (the project was erected in eight days) and an architecture that disappears into the surrounding landscape.