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Lake Lanier yields trash and dangers
20th annual Shore Sweep a success for the community
April Ketels and her son, Hunter, look for trash Saturday along the shore of War Hill Park. - photo by The Times

When the annual Lake Lanier Association Shore Sweep started in 1988, perhaps 100 people, mostly owners of property on the lake, spent the morning filling garbage bags with debris strewn along the banks of the water.

Twenty years and 500 tons of garbage later, the Shore Sweep has grown as one Northeast Georgia’s most popular public service projects, with an estimated 1,200 people volunteering on Saturday.

"It’s much bigger now than when it started," said Lake Lanier Association board member Roger Bauer, who has been around for every sweep since the first. "The interest in the lake has just grown over the years."

Scout groups have provided one of the biggest boosts in participation in recent years, turning out in large numbers to earn patches for conservation and "leave no trace" efforts, as well as a special patch awarded by the Lake Lanier Association.

Sheryl Speer of Lilburn brought her daughter and two sons, both members of Boy Scouts Pack 502, to spend the morning plucking sheet metal, Styrofoam and "a lot of glass" from the shores near Aqualand Marina.

His rubber clogs and navy blue Scout pants streaked with mud, 8-year-old Justin Speer said digging old bottles out of the banks was "kind of fun."

"You get down and dirty," he said.

His mother wasn’t surprised by all the junk they recovered, including a rusted anchor and a paint bucket. The shards of glass were certainly no surprise, she said. When she was 16, she cut her foot while wading in Lake Lanier.

"I knew way back then there was glass on the bottom of the lake," she said.

This year and last have given Shore Sweepers greater opportunities to get at all the detritus carelessly discarded from boats and docks. Lake Lanier is at a record low level, 15 feet below pool.

"It hasn’t been this low for Shore Sweep, ever," said Vicki Barnhorst, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.

Still, the group expected a slight dropoff in numbers from the 40 tons of junk collected during last year’s event, when the lake levels were nearly as low. Since that time, a number of "mini-sweeps" have taken place, with much of the larger debris collected while it was accessible.

"The lake hasn’t gone up, to wash more stuff back up to the shore," Barnhorst said. "If we get 30 tons (today) it will be great."

Barnhorst said the never-ending job of cleaning up after other people is owed in part to the lake’s popularity. Lake Lanier has about 7.5 million visitors in a year.

"That’s a lot of people to leave trash," she said. "People litter, it’s a shame. They need to pick it up and take it with them."

Saturday’s event was an opportunity to teach children important lessons about not littering and respecting the environment, said Tyler Young of Buford, who brought his twin 8-year-old girls, their friend and his 12-year-old daughter to help him and his wife as they gathered trash, including more than 20 tires and a discarded satellite dish.

"I want to teach them responsibility," Young said. "It’s their lake, and it’s our lake. I like to keep it clean."

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