Volunteers take pride in cleaning up local recreation spot
Published 11:43 am Saturday, June 6, 2015
Cleaning up the Watauga Lake is not an easy task, but someone has do it.
On May 30, on a warm and sunny day as many people enjoyed the nice weather on the waters of the Watauga Lake, 100 volunteers hit the the body of water armed with gloves, nets, trash bags, and sheer motivation for the sixth annual Watauga Lake Cleanup.
This year’s event was organized for the first time by the Watauga Watershed Association. For the last five years, the cleanup had been put on by Mary Salters and the Community Gives Back organization. During one of the Watagua Watershed Association’s meeting with the Sierra Club, Salter approached the association in hopes they would continue the cleanups, cleanup coordinator Dennis Shekinah said.
“We are happy to continue carrying the torch,” he said.
On the morning of the cleanup, a group of four energetic volunteers loaded up onto an old Riviera Cruiser pontoon boat, which was provided by the Lakeshore Marina. Both Lakeshore and Fish Spring Marinas contributed boats so volunteers could reach the more inaccessible shores of Watauga Lake.
One of the volunteers aboard the pontoon boat — or makeshift trash barge — was Rita Cowan, who has been a member of the Watauga Watershed Alliance since 2003, which was the year the organization formed. Cowan, who during past cleanups worked the sign up booth, was eager and excited to go out and hunt for trash.
“This is one of the cleanest lakes in the United States,” she said while boarding the pontoon. “We need to keep it that way.” Shorty after the pontoon, which was steered by Watauga Lake Sailing Club member Jeff Arnfield, left Fish Springs Marina, the four trash hunters spotted a large 5-foot-long piece of dingy white plastic foam floating among a bunch of fallen trees.
Arnfield, who has been a member of the sailing club since 2002, turned the boat towards the eyesore and steered through the floating logs, before coming to a stop against a large fallen trees.
Out of the many types of trash that floats around the shores of the lake, plastic foam is the most abundant, largely due to its use in floating boat docks, coolers, and floatation devices, which are frequently used on the lake, Arnfield said.
“Styrofoam can be a nasty thing,” he said. “It breaks up very easily and ends up everywhere.”
With the boat tied off to the log, Arnfield jumped into the water and swam over to the plastic foam.
A fallen tree held the large piece of trash down, which made it hard for Arnfield to free it. Cowan, who was not dressed to enter the water, wearing blue jeans and a tee shirt, decided to help out.
After a quick count to three, she jumped into the murky water. She helped pull the plastic foam, which Arnfield freed by kicking it numerous times, to the boat where volunteers Jay Piper and Elizabeth Edgar helped Cowan pull the trash on board.
The large piece of plastic foam, which ended up being a part of a boat, was the first of a large amount of trash the four volunteers would load onto the makeshift trash barge. The difficulty that came with the removing of the first large piece of trash foreshadowed the tediousness that comes with cleaning up a lake.
The crew continued their mission. Their next stop was a large cove. The group exited the boat and spread out along the shore in search of trash, and it did not take them long to start filling up their trash bags. The shore the group searched was a place frequented by many campers, making it a prime candidate for trash.
Edgar, a cleanup volunteer for the last five years, found an old black tire, which she rolled over to the boat that was beginning to fill up with trash.
Tires are another type of trash that frequents the shores of Watauga Lake.
For Edgar, cleanups, like the one on May 30, are a way for her to keep a place she considers beautiful clean.
“We have such a beautiful area” she said. “But it can be embarrassing when people start seeing all of the trash people discard.”
After cleaning up the first cove of the day, the crew set sail to the next cleanup site. While looking for more trash from the water, the volunteers spotted a buoy with a red flag that had a white diagonal line running across it. Flags like the one described are used by divers to signal to boats that they are under the water. The divers using the flag were from Two Worlds Divers, a company out of Boone, N.C. Twenty divers from Two Worlds Divers donated their time and skills during the cleanup. The divers swam the waters of Watauga Lake looking for trash. The group found cellphones, cans, flip flops, and other varieties of trash on the lake bottoms.
“We wanted to get out here and help get to the deeper parts of the lake,” said Two Worlds Divers owner Mitch Pardue, who started the business in 1985.
After making many stops along the shores of the lake, the group of four volunteers made two final stops near the Butler Dam.
The first of the last two stops was at a relatively smaller cove, which ended up being one of the trashiest.
After getting out of the boat and balancing on fallen branches to reach floating cans, gas canisters, pieces of foam, and many other types of trash that finds its way into the lake, the cleanup grew quickly filled up four 50 gallon trash bags.
With the boat now full of trash, the group made its way back to Fish Springs Marina, where they unloaded the trash into a large dumpster that was donated by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey.
The group was pretty happy with how much they were able to remove from the lake. While there was a lot of trash in the lake and on its shores, it was cleaner than expected.
“I could be angry about all of the trash,” Cowan said. “But we did a lot of good work today, and we got to see how clean the shore really is.”