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Volunteers bag loads of trash from lake

Saturday morning Watauga Lake became the destination of dozens of boats loaded with volunteers, in the first annual Watauga Lake Cleanup. Registering at either Fish Springs Marina or Sugar Grove Baptist Church near the Dry Hill community, volunteers searched the shorelines in an effort to cleanup some of the accumulated trash and debris that were beginning to plague the lake. Trash was deposited in dumpsters at Pioneer Landing Marina and Fish Springs Marina or was taken to two barges located on the lake.
A picnic was held at 2:30 at Sugar Grove where various sponsors including the TVA and the Tennessee Forestry Department set up booths.
Earlier in the morning biscuits were served by the church as well as coffee from TJs Coffee House and ham from Goodnight Brothers’ Country Hams of Boone. Entertainment included a local bluegrass band and various door prizes, including a grand prize drawing for $200. The winner had to be present to claim their prize and the $200 went to Brenda Wilson of Butler, who graciously donated it back to the “Our Community Gives Back” organization in charge of the cleanup.
The original idea behind the cleanup began with two close friends and residents of the lake area. Mary Salter and Debbie Rolleri both began to see a real problem with trash building up around the lake and decided to do something about it. After much discussion and many phone calls to friends and supporters, the two came up with the “Our Community Gives Back” organization and began the process of creating an annual Watauga Lake cleanup day. Sponsors quickly came on board and after a little advertising including putting fliers at local churches, the event was underway.
According to Salter the only area where support seemed to be lacking was from local candidates in the upcoming election. Of 59 requests only six candidates were present at the cleanup; State Representative candidate Marvin Gurley, County Mayor candidates Scott Teague, Jerry Jordan, and Ray Allen, and 4th district commissioner candidates Gary Phillips and Jonathan Pleasant. Teague was deeply involved in the cleanup, working with volunteers around the lake as well as helping with the registration site at Sugar Grove.
More than 200 volunteers showed up at the two registration points, bringing dozens of their own private boats. Some volunteers came from as far away as Bristol, Johnson City, and Boone. The Dry Run Volunteer Fire Department was on hand to help direct traffic and handle any safety concerns that arose. Several of the firemen, including chief Ray Lunceford helped in the clean up as well.
At the end of the day more than 500 bags of trash were collected as well as many larger items including more than 100 tires, large pieces of styrofoam, bowling pins, lawn chairs and various children’s toys.
The biggest cleanup was a 13-foot boat that had been shot full of holes and intentionally sunk, which will be investigated to try to determine the owner. According to Salter, “We saw a dedicated group of people come out, and I really appreciate their efforts and know that we can make a difference.” The only hitch that came during the day happened when there was a shortage of garbage bags.
Although this first year was very successful, next year already seems even brighter with sponsors such as the Elizabethton Walmart already pledging their support. According to Salter, “We learned a lot this year that we plan to use to make next year even better.” Salter and Rolleri’s dedication to their cause and the support of all of those involved in the cleanup demonstrate the power of a community coming together for a good cause. The phenomenal amount of work done stands as a testament to their success and also paves the way for further victories later on. What began as two friends coming together where they saw a need has now become a community event that can help to ensure that Watauga Lake remains one of the most beautiful and serene locations in Johnson County as well as the region.