Cleanup efforts held for West Point Lake

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Residents and visitors alike have seen trash and debris in West Point Lake and the Chattahoochee River, but efforts are being made to make that litter less prevalent.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning a major cleanup effort in September, and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper hosted a cleanup on April 7. In the meantime, both are encouraging visitors to properly dispose of their own trash and remove litter from the lake when it is safe to do so.

“In the month of April, at our last major clean up, we collected 24 tons of trash from the Chattahoochee River with the help of over 900 volunteers, and that was all done on one morning through a big collective effort,” said Henry Jacobs, the middle Chattahoochee outreach director for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “That was our big cleanup for the year, and that is 24 tons that isn’t washing down river into West Point Lake.”

Most clean-up projects are scheduled for cooler months when the lake level is lower and volunteers can walk on the shoreline.

Currently, the lake is above full pool due to recent rainfall, but efforts are still being made to cleanup as much as possible.

“This time of year, we do our best to keep our boat ramp areas open, and we’ll try to get some trash up around our public use areas like our beach areas where we can access it,” said David Barr, supervisory park ranger of the West Point Lake U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“That is pretty much what we are doing right now, just trying to keep our parks safe for the public and trying to keep that debris from where they like to swim and occupy, at our three beach areas mostly.”

Finances also limit what efforts can be made to seek out the trash that collects in coves and other hard to reach locations.

“One of the big problems is the amount of trash and where it is spread out to makes it very difficult and expensive to remove, and of course, our lake is operating on a very limited budget, as you could expect most government agencies do,” said David Scott, chief ranger with the Army Corps of Engineers. “Here our budget is primarily for operations of our parks and our day use and camping facilities.”

There are a few simple steps that boaters and other visitors to the lake can follow to ensure that everyone has fun at the lake though.

“Take a trash bag with you,” said Larry McManus, manager at Highland Marina Resort. “If you have trash on your boat, put it in a trash bag and take it home with you or drop it off at the nearest dumpster.”

For a bigger impact, the community is encouraged to participate in cleanup events. The next major event will be National Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 22, which will be hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“[The fall] is typically when our lake level is down a little bit lower, and it is easier to access the trash that is along the shoreline,” Barr said. “Right now, with the lake level as high as it is — which we are at full pool and thankful for that — a lot of times that water’s edge is right up where the bushes are at, the tall grass. It makes it where it is hard to really get this trash safety. Plus, right now a lot of it is floating back in coves.”

Scott said that the event has seen between 200 and 800 participants in past years, and the Corps of Engineers is hopeful that the community will come out in force this year. Participants will be transported to access points where they can safety pick up trash at the event. Groups can pre-register by contacting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at (706) 645-2937.

If a small group wanted to organize a cleanup in a safe area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can also assist with organization and safety tips.

“Of course, we always welcome anyone who wishes to volunteer to do any type of cleanup project around the lake,” Barr said. “There are areas where bank fishermen are at that litter accumulates, but it is a little challenging right now with the lake up to access it safely.”

Ultimately, most officials involved with the lake expect litter to be an ongoing battle due to how refuse from Atlanta and other cities along the Chattahoochee is funneled downstream, but they were optimistic about the future due to recent efforts and awareness campaigns in the area.

“You have one of the largest urban areas 70 miles north of us on the Chattahoochee River, and that is a big contributing factor to the trash that we see and need to cleanup from West Point Lake,” Jacobs said. “Every community, including Troup County, is also responsible for cleaning trash up. It has been good to see the city, the county and businesses taking more pride but also more initiative to clean up trash. We are glad to see that is catching on with the lake too, even though it is something that Riverkeeper has been doing for 20 plus years.”