Trash Spots and Test Plots: CJL Summer Intern

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The heat of the day finds its way through the trees, pushing warmly on my back. I stand up and place an empty Sprite bottle into the orange trash bag in my left hand. Waving my stick for spiderwebs, I advance towards the tire lying in front of me. It has been filled with dirt and small plants.

Moving quickly, I reach into the dirt and flip the tire over. My heart jumps and I yell out as a spider scurries away, with a body the size of a grape. I am feeling extra-sensitive to creepy crawlers in my thirsty and overheated daze. Looking around at the trees I see the four orange pieces of tape marking the rectangle I have just cleared of trash.

After the next significant rainfall, Clean Jordan Lake will send someone back to measure the amount of new trash. This provides another useful way to measure the trash accumulation rate. The data will also be helpful when considering the design of a possible trash trap upstream. A trash trap on the Haw River would prevent the bulk of the trash from reaching the lake, as most of it comes from the watershed. Knowing the accumulation rate helps approximate the necessary capacity for one of these potential devices.


My first trash pickup was done at Stinking Creek, which was full of those large spiders and also a very difficult place to navigate. I even began picking up trash at the wrong spot and had to conduct another pickup in the correct location.  Thankfully I had Dr.DiGiano’s GPS to follow the waypoints in and safely out of the forest.

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White Refrigerator In Background, found at Wilderness Island

The next day, I set up trash test plots at two different spots on Wilderness Island and one plot on New Hope Overlook. These locations are best reached by kayak. The weather was gorgeous and I enjoyed several scenic rides across the water. Each test plot was 200-500 sq ft. and usually held enough trash for two full bags.

I found various interesting items, ranging from the never-ending supply of discarded bottles to old lacrosse balls and odd toys. The winner for largest item was a rusty refrigerator frame that had somehow made its way onto Wilderness Island despite being heavy and full of holes.  Most likely, it arrived during the heavy rains of December and January because this same area had been cleared of trash by CJL volunteers in September 2015.  

When I finally strapped the kayak to the roof of my car, the sun was already ducking behind the trees. I felt accomplished and had learned a bit about patience and fortitude during my adventures. Eight more bags of trash left the shoreline of Jordan Lake, with the goal of preventing thousands more.


Luke Heffernan,  Summer Intern for Clean Jordan Lake, supported by grant from REI

Trash and Treasure: First Impressions of CJL Intern

Hi, my name is Luke Heffernan and I am a summer intern at Clean Jordan Lake. I am an undergraduate student in the business school at University of Texas and was given the opportunity to intern thanks to a grant given to CJL from REI. Two weeks ago I left the humid air of Houston, Texas and arrived in the beautiful North Carolina sunshine. My grandpa and I went sailing at Jordan Lake the next day, marveling at the gorgeous morning weather and the birds swooping into the waves to catch their breakfast.


Great Blue Heron entangled in fishing line in tree.

Then came my wake up call. Dr.DiGiano and I embarked on a hike near Stinking Creek to survey the trash lines; I was astounded. When I first had heard about picking up trash off the shorelines, I thought of water bottles and food wrappers. Much to my surprise, that’s only what we wish it was. Densely strewn throughout the woods was a literal (or should we say litter-al) line of trash that had been pushed back from the shore by rising water levels. The majority of the debris had found its way down the Haw River from a watershed of over 1,400 sq miles. The watershed feeds into the river which feeds into Jordan Lake, explaining the diversity of items we saw lying there in the wildlife. There was everything you could name — tires and lighters, jackets and backpacks, butane and bottles. Due to an unusually high water level back in January, the trash line reached far into the woods, invisible from the water.

Later in the week, we observed trash along the shores of various coves and islands. These are places where families like to stop for lunch in kayaks and small fishing boats, enjoying the remote immersion in nature. One couple we talked to had found a small stretch of beach where they could relax and play with their son in the water. They had seen trash around the area, but since that beach was relatively clean, they chose it for their day’s activities (little did they know that Clean Jordan Lake recently held a cleanup on that shoreline!). While it is not always fun seeing what ends up on the lake, it is assuring to see what the volunteering efforts have accomplished. The cleanups have cleared out great recreational areas and wildlife habitats along the shorelines. We enjoyed a pleasant kayak paddle through these areas, silently marveling at the beauty of Jordan Lake.

REI Grant Makes Tackling Trash More Effective

REI logo small reduced size (002)An REI Local Store grant of $8,000 to Clean Jordan Lake will improve the effectiveness of our trash removal and prevention programs. Nick Cross, the REI Outdoor Programs Manager for Central North Carolina said “we’re proud to support organizations like Clean Jordan Lake and their efforts to make the Triangle’s recreation experience more enjoyable, and thus bring more people to the outdoors. This grant will bolster the organization’s efforts to increase awareness and expand their Adopt-A-Shoreline and Adopt-A-Feeder Stream programs.”

Expanding the Adopt-A-Feeder Stream Program is critical because 80% of the trash on the shoreline is not from the users of the lake but from rainfall that flushes it off playgrounds, parking lots, roadsides and illegal dump sites all the way up to Greensboro and Hillsborough. Enlisting more volunteer groups in this Program to intercept trash before it reaches the lake will also inspire pride in a cleaner landscape close to home while raising awareness of connectivity to more distant water resources.

We’ll also use the grant to increase the effectiveness of shoreline cleanups. Businesses and corporations in the Triangle area will be contacted to explain Clean Jordan Lake’s employee community service opportunities.

And we also want to reduce that 20% of trash coming from recreation at the lake so we intend to raise awareness by rotating an information table around to popular recreation points on the shoreline this summer.


Luke Heffernan surveying trash loads along the New Hope Channel.

The REI grant has enabled us to hire a summer intern to assist in achieving the outcomes we promised.  Luke Heffernan is a rising sophomore in the School of Business at the University of Texas.  He wants to have a career in marketing of green energy and protecting our environment.  His first week on the job has included survey of shoreline sections to prioritize locations for future cleanups.

Across the country, REI partners with like-minded nonprofit organizations that are focused on increasing access and stewarding the outdoor places where its members play. Last year, the co-op made grants to more than 300 local, regional and national nonprofit organizations for infrastructure building, preservation and restoration projects in over 1,000 locations.

Campgrounds at New Hope Overlook Rescued from Trash

Back in January, a Jordan Lake State Park Ranger called Clean Jordan Lake to ask for help.  The 17 ft. rise in lake level during the heavy rains of December and January had forced closure of State Park entrances for over a week.  Shoreline signs went missing, logs were strewn everywhere and even worse, a huge amount of trash was left far up from the normal shoreline.  Even though Camping Area A at New Hope Overlook is about 15 ft above normal lake level, the 17 ft rise brought all the trash flushed from the watershed by the rains into the campground area.

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Trash line far above the normal shoreline level

The request for help was luckily before choosing the site for our semi-annual Spring cleanup on March 19th.  But the State Park Ranger was hoping for help even earlier, prior to re-opening the campground on  March 12th.

Clean Jordan Lake was still able to come to the rescue.  A Thursday Senior Triangle Hikers Group, led by Ian Potter and Marga Theelen approached us in January asking how they could help to get the trash off the Red Trail they had recently hiked.   Fourteen members showed up on Jan. 28th.  They cleared 30 bags of trash and 4 tires from Camping Area A . Lots more was left to do but it was a good start.


Triangle Thursday Seniors Hiking Group

In February, the Green Club at Northwood High School in Chatham County, led by Sarah Montgomery, asked about doing a community service project.  Fortunately we were able to arrange a cleanup at Camping Area A on March 5, one week before the opening of the campground. Sarah brought 19 students.  They removed 25 bags of trash and 4 tires to finish the cleaning of  Camping Area A.

But more trash remained along a 2- mile stretch to the south roughly following the Red Trail and ending just below Camping B.  This was tackled on March 19th.  Despite the threat of showers, 165 volunteers showed up for our Annual Spring Cleanup.

The US Army Corps of Engineers brought its pontoon boat to haul trash about 2 miles to a dumpster provided by Chatham County Solid Waste & Recycling. They were assisted by several other boaters and kayakers. In just 2 hours, the shoreline was free of 270 bags of trash and 31 tires!


Northwood HS Students

And volunteers were eager to help in our new project to separate floatable plastic bottles with caps.   We plan to repurpose these with the help of high school students as pontoons for mini trash barges that can be towed behind kayaks. The barges also will help raise public awareness about the immensity of our litter issues.

CJL 3-19-16 Blue bags for plastic bottle repurposing

Blue bags contain plastic bottles with their caps for making pontoons for mini trash barges.

A few volunteers were designated as plastic bottle collectors.  They reversed their DOT bags so the blue side was facing out .  In just two hours, about 70 bags of bottles were collected, enough we think to construct two sets of pontoons for mini trash barges.

We’re gratified to see so many dedicated repeat volunteers and equally happy to welcome many new folks, especially university and high school students who shape the future of our society’s values.

The combined efforts of 200 volunteers for all three cleanups resulted in removal of 305 bags of trash and 36 tires.  There are still a few short lengths of shoreline  we did not reach.  A small group of volunteers could do these to complete restoration of  beauty to the Red Trail and Camping Areas A and B at each end.


Looking Back at 2015 and Ahead to 2016

2015 Totals BreakdownThis bar chart summarizes the trash cleanup activities during 2015.  AASP + AAFSP represents all cleanups by our 16 groups in the Adopt-A-Shoreline and two in the Adopt-A-Feeder Stream Programs.

Those in the AASP are required to do three cleanups per year at their designated sites around the lake.  Those in the AAFSP are required to do two cleanups along streams that feed into Jordan Lake.

Community Service refers to the semi-annual cleanups open to the general public and all others performed by corporate, business, university, middle and second schools, civic and religious organizations throughout the year.

USGS Lake Level 2015Regrettably, rain in early Spring and again throughout the Fall caused us to either cancel or postpone several major cleanups.  The reason in most cases was not rain during the day of the cleanup, but the lake level rise following earlier rain. High water prevents safe access to the shoreline and leaves a lot trash unreachable, floating in the water.  The chart shows that the level rose many times in Spring and starting in October, remained far above normal for long stretches of time.

CJL sign in water after Dec rainsEven a 2 ft rise brings water a hundred feet into the adjoining woods, accompanied by trash flushed from 1,700 square miles of watershed.  Rainfall from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 was 20 inches, one-half the normal of an entire year.

The lake level rose to over 17 ft of normal in late December!  This has not been seen since 2003.  Jordan Lake State Park had to close entrances because of extensive flooding.  Even now after a break in the rain, the lake level is still 16 ft above normal.

Farrington Pt. Boat ramps after Dec rainsOur volunteers will face an enormous cleanup challenge once the lake level recedes to normal.  They will be removing trash that extends hundreds of feet back from the shoreline into the woods.


The graph shows the cumulative results of our volunteer effort since 2009. Over 4,000 volunteers have participated.  They have Summary vol., bags, tires 2009-2015removed nearly 11,000 bags of trash and 3,800 tires.

We estimate the value of their work in terms of goods and services donated at about $550,000. No agency of local, regional or state government can tackle the problem.

The obvious solution is trash prevention within the watershed.  This is an enormous challenge for a grassroots nonprofit like Clean Jordan Lake with no paid staff.

We hope to gain the support of all nine counties in the watershed in new public awareness campaigns. We will continue our Educational Pontoon Boat Tours for County Leaders, started with Durham, this Spring.  The “We All Live in the Watershed” theme promoted in elementary schools by the Soil and Water Conservation Division of NC Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services is an excellent example of what needs to be done to sensitize our citizens about good stewardship.

75 Volunteers in Fall Trash Cleanup Make a Difference!

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Trash coming from upstream on Haw R. in cove

Thanks to 75 energetic volunteers in our Annual Fall Cleanup on Oct. 17th, we removed most of the stain on one-half mile of shoreline. The coves near Stinking Creek entrance to the lake were covered with trash .

This same section of shoreline was trash-free after our 2014 Fall Cleanup. The new load came from everywhere upstream being flushed off the land by recent heavy rains on the Haw River watershed .


Kayakers pick up floating trash and pass along to “mother” boats

Unfortunately, a lot of the floating trash had to be left behind for another event during a lower lake level. Nonetheless, we are grateful for a few boaters who were scooping it out and to a few others on land who walked into the water.

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Doug and his faithful kayak in their 9th cleanup with CJL

Others combed the shoreline and still others ferried the trash to a dumpster about 2 miles away at the Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters.

Many of our volunteers are repeats. For instance, Doug and his kayak (see photo) have been to NINE of our events! And let’s also recognize the continued help of the Army Corps of Engineers (see photo of their trash filled pontoon boat).

We’re happy to provide an opportunity for youth to volunteer. After all, they’re the future stewards of our environment. Stefan Klakovich is a dedicated environmental science teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School system. He recruited about 20 high school students for our event. Others came from Apex and Pittsboro schools.

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Youth participation in cleanup

University students also participated. We had a group from UNC, Dept. of Chemistry’s Graduate and Professional Student Federation and another from UNC-Pembroke who were each volunteering during their Fall Breaks.

Annual Fall Trash Cleanup 10-17-15

U.S. Army Corps Engineers brings pontoon boat to ferry trash

We got TV coverage from Time-Warner News and in the Daily Tar Heel, written by Eric Schwartz who was on the scene talking to our volunteers.Shoreline cleaned on 10-17-15


One of the five winners to find a Trash Treasure Hunt item

The map shows the cleanup area. Not counting all the big piece of trash such as pails of construction adhesives, 170 bags of trash and 13 tires were removed.

Everyone was treated to a great lunch. All five of our Trash Treasure Hunt items were found and redeemed for nice prizes from Great Outdoor Provision Company, Townsend Bertram and Company, Mountain Khakis and the Pittsboro Roadhouse.

Come join us for our Spring Cleanup!

Durham Leaders Tour Jordan Lake

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L to R. Tobin Freid, Don Moffitt, Tania Dautlick, Wendy Jacobs, Brenda Howerton, Michael Page, Sylvia Le Goff, Ellen Reckhow, Steve Schewel, and Fran DiGiano.

We brought nine leaders from Durham County and City to the lake last Friday. TriangleBoat Tours donated their services for the event.

This was our first in a series of tours for leaders of the eight counties in the watershed. We want them to appreciate the beauty of the lake while also seeing why we need to educate all citizens about trash prevention.

Representing Durham County were Commissioners Michael Page (Chairman), Brenda Howerton (Vice-chairman), Wendy Jacobs and Ellen Reckhow. Coming from the City of Durham were Council members Don Moffitt and Steve Schewel along with Tobin Freid of the Sustainability Office and Tania Dautlick of Keep Durham Beautiful. Sylvia Le Goff represented El Centro Hispano, Inc.

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On board boat photo: Captain Don Watkins of Triangle Boat Tours pointing out features of Jordan Lake

These leaders were impressed by soaring birds, vast expanses of water and a shoreline uninterrupted by a single dwelling. They were also shocked to see so much trash when we pulled up onto a section of shoreline where most comes from upstream on the Haw River and New Hope Creek. Their spontaneous response was to hop off the boat to pick up trash!

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Displaying trash items: L to R. Tania Dautlick, Tobin Freid, Don Moffitt and Steve Schewel

Schewel said afterwards “we were reminded of our responsibility in Durham to help keep the lake clean. Moffitt added “it was an educational experience. The lake is an important drinking water source for Durham and protecting it is a priority.” And Le Goff remarked that “education is the key to trash prevention and this begins by raising the awareness of our youth.”

All participants made many good suggestions for how Clean Jordan Lake could more effectively partner with counties in trash prevention. We’re very encouraged to continue this outreach effort to leaders of the other seven counties.

Global Youth Pick Up Trash

How fitting that Wake County high school students and their guest students from around the world should volunteer on Sept. 19th, just two days before the International Day of Peace celebration!

JordanLakeGroupSherri Brown, the Wake County coordinator for the American Cultural Exchange Service (, brought 13 international students, their host students and parents for a morning of community service. The guest students were from Slovakia (2), Serbia (3), Bosnia, Herzegovina, Germany(2), Kenya, Russia, Indonesia and South Korea.

Jordan Lake Fran groupAfter a long hike through the woods bordering Stinking Creek, the group reached a huge mess of trash near a large cove facing out toward the Haw River Arm. They collected about 15 bags of trash and a couple of tires.

The students felt their work made a difference and clearly, they all enjoyed working together while furthering international understanding. It would be interesting to know what the visiting students say about trash in the U.S. in their next email back home!

Remembering 9/11 with Community Service

Clean Jordan Lake hosted two wonderful, community service events over the weekend of September 11.

Activate Good 9-11 Group photo

Activate Good Volunteers Getting Ready to Tackle Trash

We were one of 80 nonprofits to offer community service on the Day of Remembrance organized by Activate Good ( . The idea was to unite on this day to honor those lost on 9/11 with volunteerism and acts of kindness.

Activate Good 9-11 Digital Media workers

Durham Literacy Center Volunteers Clowning Around

Nearly 2,000 volunteers participated. Of these, 31 volunteered with CJL representing Wells Fargo, Fidelity Investments, EMC Corporation, Digital P Media and the Durham Literacy Center. They removed about 40 bags of trash and five tires from a chronic problem area on Wilderness Island, near the entrance of Robeson Creek into the Haw River Arm.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later picked up these bags by boat.

Acitvate Good 9-11 closeup of workers

Activate Good Volunteers Cleared Trash from Big Cove on Wilderness Island

Each rainfall flushes more trash down the Haw River to end up in this cove and in many others further down towards the dam.

Then on Sunday of that weekend, 24 student volunteers from Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity at UNC-CH came to the Marthas Chapel Rd. access to the shoreline near the Farrington Point bridge. They had the extremely challenging job of removing hundreds of pieces of trash caught in between large rocks forming the rip rap around the bridge.

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Alpha Phi Omega at UNC-CH Volunteers After Cleaning Beach Off Marthas Chapel Rd.

In addition, the group removed trash from over 1/2 mile of shoreline leading over to Marthas Chapel Rd., littered with stuff left behind by careless visitors.

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Hard Work Removing Trash from Between Rocks Near Farrinton Pt. Bridge

The trash on the rip rap was not only the usual assortment of broken beer bottles and beer cans. These volunteers also had to tug and pull at hundreds of feet of fishing line, some with lures attached, snagged on rocks and ready to be entangled by birds.

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Nightime Fishing Aftermath- Propane Tanks Used For Lanterns Discarded!

And even more disgusting than the fishing line and broken beer bottles was the tens of camping propane tanks. Volunteers were yanking them out from among the rocks. I’m told that these tanks are attached to lanterns for night fishing.

In less than two hours, these wonderful Alpha Phi Omega volunteers removed 26 heavily loaded bags of trash and one tire.

All this stuff is here because users of the lake’s shoreline seem insensitive to their environment. Ironically, their trash is destroying the very place they want to go back to!!

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Jon Bannerman of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Heavy Load From Activate Good’s Day of Remembrance (yours truly in foreground)


Launch of SyngentaProud Community Service Day

We were pleased to have been chosen for the kick off of a new corporate community service program called SyngentaProud. Beth Mathews of Syngenta’s Protein Expression Product Safety Group in the region pulled together 24 employees to come to the lake on August 27. They hopped aboard with Captain Don’s Triangle Boat Tours in the morning to see the beauty of the lake and its soaring birds. Lunch was at the Visitor Assistance Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers perched above the lake with a great view to the B. Everett Jordan dam.

OCSpic1Captain Don then ferried them a short distance across the Haw River Arm for an afternoon of service with us. These hard working volunteers picked up trash all along the tip of the peninsula known as Wilderness Island.


OCSpic3They carried 32 bags and rolled 3 tires back to the waiting pontoon boat for the return trip to the Corps’ dock and unloading .

Beth said “we really enjoyed our day at the lake and were so glad we could help out in the community. I received a lot of feedback that the event (both boating and the cleanup) were a success.”