Focus often lies on the official cleanup day, in which some 4,000 Boy and Girl Scouts from several counties joined forces Sept. 18 to amass considerable piles of garbage, which in many years reaches between 30 and 40 tons in weight. Much of that is carted off the day of, but miles of shoreline remain littered with neat piles of collected garbage bags where immediate removal is impossible.
To solve this dilemma, Georgia Power Company steps up each year to tackle the remaining trash and finish the mammoth cleanup efforts that encompass all 264 miles of lake shore. For three days, employees of Georgia Power's Plant Bowen take to the lake in a fleet of pontoon boats to retrieve what is left from the week before.
"It's ownership. Thousands of people have ownership once they've participated in an event like this. It sets a great example for young people. Once they've picked it up, they're going to have a real hard time throwing it back out again or letting their friends throw it back out while they're on the lake," said Wayne Biasetti, GLAC co-coordinator. "At this point right now this lake is pristine, the shoreline is pristine and it will stay that way all winter long."
It takes about nine months of preparation to coordinate the initial cleanup and feed the thousands of volunteers at an annual picnic, but the following week a handful of dedicated workers taking time away from their regular duties work for days on end finishing up the annual event.
Former park ranger at Red Top Mountain State Park and GLAC volunteer coordinator Janice Granai spoke to the importance of this cleanup and its environmental impact.
"The impact on wildlife with all this trash. I can't count how many times over the years we've gone out and found blue herons, geese, raccoons and whatever tangled up in fishing line that has been discarded. The six-pack rings tend to go over their necks or mouths, it just damages wildlife. A lot of times there's just nothing that can be done," Granai said. "When you go down to the lake and it's clean, you want to keep it clean. If you go out and see a big pile of trash, tires, whatever, you're not inspired to keep it that way -- another can won't make a difference. And when these things are in the water the rust, the contaminants, whatever is in those, you're affecting the fish, the aquatic snakes, the toads, things like that. So it makes a huge difference."
Eighteen employees from Plant Bowen spent much of last week on the water working long days hauling in garbage. Georgia Power Maintenance Mechanic and GLAC co-coordinator Phil Westbrooks commented on the team that dedicates itself each year to cleanup efforts.
"Almost everybody has been doing it for several years, probably six or seven years. Every time when it rolls around we pretty much get the same folks and then there's always a few new ones that jump on board," Westbrooks said, adding his was inspired to join the crew nearly 10 years ago. "[It was] the opportunity to get involved with community service and that seemed like a really good worthwhile project, and the more we did it, the more we got involved. It's hard work but it's a lot of fun, too.
"It's a worthy thing, just keeping the waterways clean. A lot of us live near the lake and use the lake quite a bit, and it's just the right thing to do."
Organizers emphasized the sacrifices made by these volunteers with last year's cleanup as the prime example. During last September's heavy rains, Georgia Power employees scoured the flooded beaches and fished wet trash from the water as the lake levels rose at historic rates.
"Last year, I think that's when I was most impressed when we had those torrential rains," Granai said. "We were out there on the lake doing the aftermath and the rain would come down so hard you couldn't see off the front of the boat. They were diving, literally, off the boats to get floating trash bags. They stayed with us every bit of the way and I never heard a complaint."