What started out as a master's degree project to document illegal dump sites has morphed into a personal campaign by a Grants Pass couple to make the public aware about what's happening out in the woods.

Professional photographers Lori and Tony Mitchell started clicking images in February while on weekly trips to public forests along 15 roads in the county, plus one road in Jackson County. They found dumps along all but one.

The roads they traveled represent a cross-section of rural Josephine County: Riverbanks, Murphy, Williams, Selma, Kerby, Merlin, Galice, Savage Creek.

What they found was both disheartening and disturbing, although they hope awareness and education can help curb some the problem.

They found "tons of mattresses," and "TVs everywhere," and milk jugs "you can't even count," Lori said. They found a pile of dead sheep, "lots of tires" and "condoms at every place, literally."

Some dump sites were just outside a garbage transfer station in the Kerby area. A refrigerator was at one site. Spent shotgun shells were common. Vehicles were riddled with bullet holes.

Tony began taking the images in his quest for a master's degree through an online program of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, but the project has now gone beyond a mere college effort.

"It's just become a mission," Lori said. "This is our home. Our children are here.

"When you look at what's dumped up there, do they not know you can recycle some of this stuff? It's trying to spread awareness and educating people about their options."

Metals, cans and bottles can be recycled, as can oil, paints, vehicles and electronics. But some people just don't care.

"We keep thinking about what this is doing to wildlife," not to mention the psyche, Lori said.

A dump site along Savage Creek Road east of Grants Pass was "one of the worst," although it was cleaned up a week ago by volunteers with the local chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association. A discarded hot tub remains in the area, however.

Fortunately, most of the debris was not in waterways.

"It did not look like this several years ago," said Lori, whose family has lived generations in the Rogue Valley.

The roads they traveled included Pickett Creek, Panther Gulch, Quartz Creek, Taylor Creek, Hog Creek, Kerby Mainline, Limpy Creek, Murphy Creek, Spencer Creek, Shan Creek, Onion Mountain, Fall Creek, Squaw Creek, Eight Dollar, Stratton Creek and Savage Creek.

The lone road they found clean was Illinois River Road.

What you can do Help keep forests clean:

• Consider forming a neighborhood group to keep your street or road clean.

• Contact federal forest agencies if you want to help clean up a forest dump site. Reach Phil Rheiner with the Bureau of Land Management at 541-471-6500; and you can reach Brian Long with the U.S. Forest Service at 541-899-3800.

• Contact authorities if you have information about illegal dumping. County, state and federal authorities can prosecute criminal violations and can pursue civil penalties. Offensive littering is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.

• To see more photos of illegal dump site, visit MitchellArtsPhotography.net and click on "personal projects."