Hundreds of volunteers venture out to remove trash from Lake Hopatcong

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By Bill Woolley | LHF:Shortly after 8 o’clock on a misty Saturday morning, the collar of two green-plaid boots peeked up above the dark-gray muck just off Brady Road in Jefferson Township.

Barely a step away, Cora Haughney was desperately trying to find her balance on one foot, which she’d managed to plant on a friend’s clean boot while in a wobbly embrace. The willowy 15-year-old had surrendered both boots to the clutches of the Lake Hopatcong shoreline while volunteering for a recent cleanup effort, organized by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and the Lake Hopatcong Commission.

Her mother, meanwhile, balanced on slippery rocks as she bent over to try to yank the boots out. One at a time, each with loud shlurrrps, Roxana Scanlon managed to free the footwear and wrangle them back onto her grateful daughter’s feet.

“It looked simple, like we could just walk out there and start picking things up, but the muck just sucks you in,” said Scanlon. “Still, I don’t regret coming out to help with the cleanup. Everything can be washed.”

Scanlon and her daughter were among an estimated 400+ volunteers who defied the rainy weather and sloppy conditions to remove trash from along the lake’s shoreline, Saturday, Nov. 3, while the water level was low due the 5-year drawdown.

“We’ve lived here all our lives,” said Haughney, proudly, “and we want to make sure it stays clean and livable for other people.”

That sentiment was echoed by many of the stalwarts who teamed up to tackle a trash problem that becomes increasingly evident as the lake is lowered, inch-by-inch.

The State of New Jersey draws down Lake Hopatcong by 60 inches every five years to allow property owners to repair docks and seawalls. The drawdown can also help to kill off unwanted aquatic plants in shallow areas, while facilitating cleanup efforts.

Five years ago, during the first lake-wide cleanup, approximately 23,000 pounds of debris was pulled from along the 50-mile shoreline. The unfortunate inventory included 1,100 tires, 2,000 cans, 1,500 glass bottles, 500 plastic bags and more than 100 articles of clothing. This year’s collection has yet to be tallied.

“Even with the rain and the muck, it was an amazing day for Lake Hopatcong,” said Lake Hopatcong Foundation President Jess Murphy. “Any time you have the opportunity to bring people together to do something good for the environment, it’s a great thing. Lake Hopatcong is healthier today, and so is the community that surrounds it.”

Behind Lee’s County Park Marina on Howard Boulevard, Kristen Hand led a cadre of Girl Scouts as they combed the beach for trash. The Mount Arlington site was one of more than 40 around the lake where volunteers teamed up for the cleanup.

Hand and co-team leader Darlene Rinaldi had recruited 15 Girl Scouts, representing Troops 95611, 96119 and 96078, to tackle what was the windiest and likely the chilliest location of the morning. Rinaldi, also a Girl Scout leader, and her crew had cleaned up Mount Arlington Beach earlier in the morning.

“We’re always looking for community service projects to participate in,” said Hand, noting her charges had found some interesting objects along the shoreline, including socks, rugs, a toy truck and an entire animal skull.

“The weather is rough here, but none of the girls have complained,” she added. “It’s great because it’s giving them a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of pride in their community.”

By late-morning at the marina, the only regret harbored by Hand was that her plans for lunch had fallen through.

“I’m just sorry that Andy already packed up his hot dog truck that’s usually parked here,” she said, perhaps only half-jokingly. “I guess he must have left for the season last week.”

Back north, by the Glasser Post Office in Hopatcong, a team of eight volunteers was picking their way among the rocks and docks in Henderson Cove.

Nearby resident Christine Shay, a veteran of the 2013 lake-wide cleanup, was among the workers who piled up mud-caked tires, tools and trash in a corner of the adjacent parking lot.

“I’m an outdoorsy person and I love the lake,” said Shay, who noted it was much colder during the cleanup five years ago, and that there was more trash to remove. “It really bothers me when people trash places and just throw things in the water without thinking. I wish they’d be a little more mindful about what they’re doing.”

At the southern end of the lake, Tom Lupo and a few other Scoutmasters were stationed at Hopatcong State Park in Landing. They’d accompanied seven Boy Scouts from Troop 91/151, a merged group from Stanhope and Byram.

By the end of the morning, Lupo’s crew was spotted filling trash bags on Clambake point, a couple hundred feet beyond the end of the public beach. Their horrible haul included bedroom slippers, bottles, picnic plates, fishing gear and, said Lupo, “some other things probably too gross to mention.” All told, the Troop filled a half-dozen large trash bags.

“I want the boys to learn that being a Scout involves being part of the community and being aware of the environment,” said Lupo. “We want them to know how important it is to keep the lake clean. That’s all just part of the Scouting experience.”

While the cleanup was coordinated by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and the Lake Hopatcong Commission, their partners also incuded the Morris and Sussex County Clean Communities programs, each of which provided grants to support the project.

The removal of debris was handled by departments of public works from Hopatcong, Jefferson Township, Mount Arlington and Roxbury, tire cleaning was taken care of by the Hopatcong Fire Department and tires will be recycled by Bridgestone Tire.

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