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Low lake levels give Lanier shore sweepers chance to collect more trash
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Vicki Barnhorst, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, talks about this year's Shore Sweep.

The Lake Lanier Association’s 20th annual Shore Sweep on Saturday will be historic in more ways than one.

The lake advocacy group has never held its big trash cleanup when Lanier’s water level was this low — more than 15 feet below full pool.

"There’s so much shoreline that wasn’t exposed during last year’s Shore Sweep," said Vicki Barnhorst, executive director of the association.

That means more trash that was previously buried will be uncovered. But the low water level presents special challenges. Because nearly all of Lanier’s boat ramps are closed, large items will be taken to barges for pickup.

Barnhorst said people also need to be particularly aware of safety hazards. She urges participants not to wade in the water, because with the lake so low, they could step into a steep drop-off. Several lake visitors have drowned this year after suddenly stepping into a deep area.

"It’s best for people to stay on the shore," Barnhorst said. "And children should wear life jackets."

Participants should also wear boots and work gloves, because some trash items may be sharp or rusty.

But the unfamiliar terrain isn’t likely to deter dedicated volunteers. Barnhorst said about 1,500 people pitched in to help last year, collecting about 42 tons of trash, and she’s hoping for a good turnout Saturday.

Cindy Stovall of Loganville plans to be there as the committee chairwoman for Cub Scout Pack 535, which has participated in Shore Sweep almost every year since 1992.

"We’ve always included it as one of our service projects," she said. "It’s part of the Scout promise to take care of the Earth."

She said about 90 people have signed up for the trip Saturday, including Scouts in grades one through five, plus their parents, siblings and other family members.

"The kids love it. And we’ve found so many unusual items," Stovall said.

She doesn’t think safety will be a problem. "The kids are closely watched by their parents and the other adults," she said.

Shore Sweep takes place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers can pick up free trash bags at 13 locations around the lake, including almost all of the marinas.

When they return their bags full of trash, they’ll receive either a free T-shirt or a Scout patch, plus an invitation to attend the volunteer appreciation party at Lanier Park on Buford Dam Road.

The party begins immediately after Shore Sweep, and will feature entertainment, food and raffle prizes.

Because this is the event’s 20th year, the lake association will hold a contest at the party to see who has the oldest souvenir T-shirt from previous Shore Sweeps, as well as the person with the most T-shirts from consecutive years.

Barnhorst said Hall, Forsyth and Dawson governments have all offered to waive their landfill fees to dispose of Shore Sweep trash. Each of those counties will also have a pickup site on the lake Saturday where barges will collect heavy items such as tires and Styrofoam.

Marine Specialties of Gainesville is donating the use of four barges, and about a dozen employees will volunteer their time. Martin Docks, another Gainesville company, also will have volunteers to help offload large items.

Barnhorst said the barges are necessary because with boat ramps closed, people will not be able to leave trash at ramps to be picked up by vehicles.

Steve Milka, general manager at Marine Specialties, said in addition to collecting trash that people drop off, the barges will have heavy equipment to pull large objects straight out of the water.

"We’re thinking with the water being so low, we may be able to dig up sunken boats or docks that have been on the bottom of the lake for years," he said.

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