SOMERSET, Ky. (Sept. 28, 2021) – More than 120 volunteers collected 276 bags of trash, 53 agricultural and car tires, old dock flotation, a metal railing with stairs, and a doghouse during a community effort to clean up Lake Cumberland on National Public Lands Day.
Volunteers set out at 8 a.m. Sept. 25 on boats to pick up trash from the shoreline from Halcomb’s Landing in Jamestown, Burnside Island State Park in Burnside, Waitsboro Recreation Area in Somerset, Conley Bottom Resort in Monticello, Lake Cumberland State Park in Jamestown, and Safe Harbor Grider Hill in Albany. They returned midday and threw out tons of trash into dumpsters.
Park Ranger Dylan Norton, who helped organize the Lake Cumberland cleanup effort, said he is amazed by the volunteers and the amount of trash collected.
“I think today’s event went very well all things considered, with COVID-19 being one of them,” Norton said. “We had a lot of dumpsters get filled up and we pulled a lot of tires out of the lake –a lot of useless trash that is polluting our lake. So, I would say today’s event was a success.”
A team of about a dozen volunteers from Hinkle Contracting Company, LLC, collected debris off the shoreline of Waitsboro Recreation Area and transported it in dump trucks for disposal. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Service along with volunteer groups like the Pulaski County High School Future Farmers of America and Junior ROTC worked around the lake to bag up litter and move it to designated boat ramps.
Hailey Heins, sophomore, and Junior ROTC cadet at Pulaski County High School, said she volunteered because, simply put, she wants to help the environment.
“It’s very important to help keep it clean,” she stressed. “We’re picking up garbage… we found a cooler, glass bottles, some inflatables, things like that.”
Heins’ classmate Donovan Schneider, a freshman Junior ROTC cadet, said doing right with nature is worth his time and effort to collect trash at Lake Cumberland. And he has a message for people who visit and recreate on public lands and water.
“Please stop throwing your trash in the water. There are fish in there, good ones too, and they’re delicious,” Schneider said. “If you’ve got trash on the bank, bring a trash bag. Help out a little bit by picking up your own trash.”
Michael Lapina, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s operations project manager for the Eastern Kentucky Area, explained that the lake fluctuates between springtime when the reservoir holds more water and fall time when the water level is lower.
“When the lake is up, trash washes downstream from as far east as Harlan County. When the lake is full the wind settles the trash back in the coves. Then when the lake comes down it gets trapped up here, sometimes in log piles and sometimes along the shoreline,” Lapina said.
Lake Cumberland is the largest lake by volume east of the Mississippi River. With 1,255 miles of shoreline and hundreds of coves, there are lots of places for trash to collect and accumulate.
In one cove during the cleanup effort, a volunteer found a large turtle trapped under debris. The environmental mission temporarily turned into a wildlife rescue.
Ironically, U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Jennifer Andrew discovered the turtle while collecting trash and quickly coordinated the efforts to free it. She happens to command the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Paducah, Kentucky, and volunteered to pick up trash while camping at Burnside Island State Park.
Andrew worked to move logs pinning down the turtle and enlisted Lapina to help move the turtle out of harm’s way so it could make its way back into Lake Cumberland. The commander thought the turtle might be deceased but seemed pleased when it began to show signs of life.
Lapina said rescuing a turtle is no less important than rescuing Lake Cumberland. He encourages people not to litter because if it enters a ditch, it will make its way into a stream and into the lake. “Prevention is the key here,” he said.
The Lake Cumberland Cleanup is supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, National Environmental Education Foundation National Public Lands Day, and Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, which stands for “Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment.”
NEEF's National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public lands. Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, this celebration brings out thousands of volunteers to help restore and improve public lands around the country.
Norton said he hopes to grow this event next year with greater numbers of volunteers so there is a more positive impact on the environment. When there is less trash and debris visitors can enjoy the clean water and recreate more safely, he added.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Lake Cumberland on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lakecumberland.)