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Watauga Lake Cleanup nets 130 bags of garbage

By Marlana Ward
Since its completion in 1948, Watauga Lake has been a family-friendly source of recreation for the peoples of Johnson and Carter counties.  No matter what socioeconomic class, there is much to be enjoyed at the lake by everyone.  Families enjoy fishing, camping, boating, skiing, swimming, diving, and a number of other activities, all thanks to the creation of the lake.  A serious downside to the many visitors the lake sees each year is the large amount of trash and debris left behind.
While portions of the lake’s shoreline is maintained by Tennessee Valley Authority and forest service maintenance, some parts go unattended with debris piles floating through and collecting in the coves and shores which are home to many fish and other wildlife.  
When Atlanta transplant Mary Salter saw the impact the trash had on the lake environment and how other lakes hosted cleanup events, she decided to take the initiative and organize the first Watauga Lake Cleanup in 2009.  “I kept hearing about the other area lakes having one, “Mary shared. “ After being here three years, I decided I would try to start a cleanup for the lake. I formed a non-profit called Our Community Gives Back for the cleanup.  With the support of area businesses, I collected money and prizes, obtained grant money and so goes the annual Watauga Lake Cleanup.”
The Watauga Lake Cleanup celebrated its fifth anniversary on July 19, 2014 with concerned citizens from both Carter and Johnson Counties braving the rain to make a difference.  Men, women, children and entire families chose not to let the damp weather dampen their drive to make one of our area’s greatest resources better for everyone.  This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of the citizens of Old Butler and the sacrifices they had to make for the lake to be possible.
For over five hours, workers combed the shorelines to rid the banks and waters of miscellaneous garbage.  Cleanup efforts were made from not only the shores but also by boat as some volunteers took to the water to gain access to otherwise difficult to reach locations. At certain spots around the lake, remnants of camping trips, fishing excursions, and days of fun in the sun littered the ground posing hazards to all future visitors.  Broken glass bottles, fishing line, aluminum cans, used hygiene products, diapers, and even drug paraphernalia are common finds when the cleanup is held.  “The first year we were here, my wife and I picked up dozens of rolled up, used diapers,” said George Hall, Sierra Club member and cleanup registration volunteer, as he recalled his experience with the first annual cleanup. “This place literally stunk.”  Some of the more interesting items pulled from the lake in past years have included an oxygen tank, a couch, pieces of defunct boat docks, and even submerged boats.
With the lake being enjoyed by so many families with children, it is no surprise that some of the most passionate supporters of the cleanup are members of the generation that all volunteers hope will benefit from their efforts.  “Our granddaughter wrote President Obama by herself and she’s only nine years old,” George Hall explained part of his family’s passion for the event.  “Her letter was strictly about the United States environment. She will be here today and she’s going to go out at nine years old and pick up trash.”
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