LILESVILLE — The gentle burn of Spring came out to celebrate the eve of Earth Day, making Blewett Falls Lake the perfect scene for kayaking, or taking the pontoon boat out for an easy drift. Or going fishing.
It was best, though, to pick an activity away from the shores, dotted with mounds of trash that will add unnaturally vibrant color to the shoreline for the next few centuries.
For the year-old Richmond County chapter of the Land Trust of Central North Carolina, along with members of the Creek Runners Club and students from the American Tae Kwon Do martial arts school, the occasion was one to storm those beaches in the hope of beginning a sustained cleanup effort that would carry over into the next generation.
The volunteers made a valiant effort (to start an impossible task is a victory in itself), meeting their goal of filling an industrial-sized container with thrash in three hours. But by the end, the largest group of volunteers had bagged only a fifth (and that’s being generous) of the trash in just one section of beach.
“It’s a shame,” said Janet Weyant, who lives on the lake and is one of the founding members of the chapter. “It’s such a beautiful lake, but nobody shows it any love.”
The worst trash buildups at the lake are in the little inlets that function like pool gutters, catching whatever flows down the Pee Dee River. The crew last Saturday figured they could stand in one spot on the shore and fill two trash bags full of bottles and other trash.
Among the items they found were balls for every American sport, a folding chair, a television from the ‘90s, a patch of carpet, chunks of Styrofoam that could have passed for bleached coral, a pool noodle, a 7-foot section of a railing from a house, batteries, and buckets and bottles of every shape, size and material.
One bottle even bore a message that read: “If you’re reading this, you have found my Cheerwine bottle. Help!!!! I’ve been out here in the woods for 2 years. Please send Help!!!” A small note at the bottom corner reassured anyone who might worry that the message was a prank from 2017, only adding another broken glass bottle to the mess.
Of all the tires found on the shore, one had the distinct “whitewall” dating back decades.
“People don’t do this to their living room,” said Gary Payne, state chairman for Ducks Unlimited and a volunteer with the cleanup crew. “If I did this to my living room, I wouldn’t be with my wife very long.”
Duke Energy owns the surrounding land, and the Wildlife Resources Commission manages it, but Sam Parrott, member outreach coordinator for the Land Trust for Central North Carolina, said it was the job of the public to treat the lake with respect if any real change were to be made.
“(Blewett Falls Lake) is a popular recreation spot — that’s a good thing — but people use the resources and maybe don’t treat it as well as they should,” Parrott said. “In no one day can you pick up all the trash, but when people come out, maybe they’ll think, ‘Let’s leave this place better than we found it.’”
Weyant and her husband, Gary, understand the cyclical nature of the trash flow. They have a joke with anyone who comes to their house that if they see a piece of broken glass, they’d better pick it up or it will be swept to another part of the lake before anyone sees it again.
“I don’t see it being spotless ever,” said Janet Weyant, who fills a grocery bag with new trash on her property every week. “We get grills, balls, stuff people didn’t mean to throw away (washing onto the property), but, hopefully, people will stop tossing stuff (directly into the lake).”
This is the first of what Janet Weyant hopes will be at least an annual cleanup for the chapter and whoever else wants to join, if not biennial, with another event to clean up after camping season. Several cleanup efforts have occurred in recent years, and the problem has the attention of county leaders, but the trash remains.
The Land Trust is a 501c3 nonprofit, with all of its revenue going toward protecting undeveloped land, waterways, wildlife habitats, family farms and public recreation. The Richmond County chapter will hold a kayak paddle on Sept. 8, as well as more events to lure families out to the lake.
There were 34 people from ages 6 to 72 working at the lake last Saturday. They all use the lake in different ways in daily life, as neighbors, hunters, paddlers, photographers.
“People express their love and respect for the outdoors in different ways,” Parrott said in an email. “However, despite our differences, we are all united by a desire to protect the local natural resources that we cherish.”
James Jeter, aka “Master J,” the owner and head instructor of American Tae Kwon Do, encourages his students to become involved in the local community and had seven come out for the cleanup. Jeter said he invited his students because helping keep “the Earth we live on” clean was consistent with the core teachings at his school.
“If someone cares for once, it might carry on to the next generation,” he said.
For more information on events held by the Land Trust you can visit www.landtrustnc.org or if you want to get involved in the Richmond County chapter, which is open to volunteers from surrounding counties, you can contact Janet Weyant at 412-606-6882.
Sarah Ferguson, a volunteer with the Richmond County chapter of the Land Trust of Central North Carolina, helps the rest of the cleanup crew by carrying a bag of trash in her kayak.
Will Ferguson carries a tire he found off the shore. Another one found amid the coating of trash was several decades old.
Gary Payne, a volunteer with the Richmond County chapter of the Land Trust of Central North Carolina and state chairman for Ducks Unlimited, transports a load of trash found on the Anson County side of Blewett Falls Lake on Saturday.
Trash covering the shoreline of Blewett Falls Lake included an assortment of drink bottles and this stack of buckets.
The ground was covered in bottles like these as far back as 50 yards from the shore at Blewett Falls Lake.
Will Ferguson carries two bottles that washed up on the shore of Blewett Falls Lake while his son, Ryan, helps.
An old television tossed into the lake will be disposed of alongside other odd findings people have tossed away.
Maiya Ferguson, 11, and Michael Holder, 11, walk along the shore of Blewett Falls Lake, looking for trash. Volunteers found bags and bags of it but barely made a dent in the yearslong accumulation.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674, by email at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @gavin_RDJ.