Local Rotary Clubs At Work

img_20161022_112840460The Cary MacGregor and Apex Sunrise Rotary Clubs sponsored a fine morning of community service at the lake on Sat., Oct. 22. Several members of our meetup.com/helpcleanjordanlake and Ranger Jon Bannerman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Jordan Dam joined them.

img_20161022_122212719_hdrTrue to Rotary Club motto of “Service Above Self”, 30 bags of trash and 3 tires were removed in 2 hours of work. The group cleaned along the shoreline of the far side of dam shown in the background of first photo. That work went so fast that we moved them over to a section of Kirks Creek off Jordan Dam Rd. where lots of trash accumulated after Hurricane Matthew.

A celebration picnic was provided by the Rotary Clubs at the Visitor Assistance Center of the Corps. This was perfect spot to appreciate the importance of our mission in preserving the beauty of the lake.

GlaxoSmithKline Returns for 7th Community Service

img_20161021_110850015On Oct. 21, 13 volunteers from GlaxoSmithKline spent their Orange Day of Community Service, a corporate wide program, with us for the 7th year! They cleared the 35 bags of trash and 2 tires from the same area they cleaned last fall. Much of the new trash was brought by the flushing action of Hurricane Matthew in the watershed. As proof of how far trash is carried, a drinking cup imprinted with “Greensboro Grasshoppers” , the minor league baseball team, was picked up.

img_20161021_115753297_hdrAt the end of the event, the GSK group leader, Jack DeCicco, asked participants to complete the following sentence: I volunteer because…

The responses were wonderful. One in particular resonates with our concern for educating the next generation. This volunteer wrote “I want to be a role model for my kids”

Thanks GSK for your great work once again!

Biogen Idec Returns for 4th Community Service

biogen-idec-group-photoBiogen Idec’s We Care Deeply community service with CJL took place in late Sept. This was the 4th year of participation with us. Knowing employees have a choice of doing service on that day from among many causes, we are grateful that 43 of them selected CJL! Some of them had also come in previous years.

The target area was a section of shoreline on the east side of the lake just north of the Corps of Engineers’ spillway. It is just about opposite where the Haw River flow enters the lake. That means the site falls victim to a huge trash load with every rainfall.

2016-biogen-care-deeply-day_-37We divided the group into 3 tracks with CJL leaders for each. Thank you, David Piet and David Field, for volunteering as leaders.




2016-biogen-care-deeply-day_-35In just 2 hours, these Biogen Idec volunteers had removed 90 very full bags of trash and 1 tire and helped haul them via the Corps of Engineers pontoon boat to a nearby dumpster.

Chatham County Leaders Aboard Pontoon Boat

img_20161004_102856173_hdr-1Encouraged by success of our first Public Awareness Pontoon Boat Tour last Fall with Durham County leaders aboard, we invited Chatham County participants for our second tour. Those aboard on the morning of Oct. 4 were Diana Hale and Karen Howard from Chatham County’s Board of Commissioners; John Bonitz, Town of Pittsboro Commissioner; Rene Pascal and Dan LaMontagne, Chatham County Manager and Assistant Manager, respectively; Maria Parker-Lewis, member of Pittsboro Business Assoc. and Main St. Pittsboro; Greg Lewis, member of Pittsboro Business Association and Chatham Economic Development Corp.; Ilana Dubester, Hispanic Liaison, Siler City; Margart Sands, Outreach Coordinator, Triangle Land Conservancy; and Nick Cross, REI Outdoor Programs Manager, Central North Carolina.

Captain Don Watkins of Triangle Boat Tours motored us from Vista Point to Jordan Dam. Along the way, the participants had wonderful looks at bald eagles, great blue heron and comorants in a setting undisturbed by a single house on the shoreline. But then we hopped off the boat to see an example of a “trashline” winding through the woods, impossible to see from the water.

img_20161004_101029020As happened in our Durham County Tour, the participants were eager to pick up trash. They filled two bags in just five minutes.

We then pulled into a quiet cove (last photo) to sit for a brainstorming session on Chatham County could help us raise public awareness.

img_20161004_111153974 Lots of great suggestions were offered including reach out to Chatham public schools; county-level messaging; invitations to reporters to view trash after storms like we just had and to be on board our next pontoon boat tour; reach out to upstream counties for our Adopt-A-Feeder Stream program; and appeal to shoreline fishermen with emotion grabbing photo of bird entangled in line imprinted on large sign.

Public Awareness Day: Ebenezer Church and Seaforth Beach

Raising raise public awareness of the trash problem is an important part of my summer internship program.  Clean Jordan Lake’s trash cleanups will never end unless the public gets behind the idea of trash prevention.  

We met with staff at the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area to explain our idea of setting up a public awareness display at a couple of their popular beaches on a weekend.  Permission was granted and plans made to be at Ebenezer Church Beach and Seaforth Beach on July 16th.

The center attraction in our display was a mini-pontoon trash barge built by local high school students from plastic bottles removed from the shoreline in a recent cleanup.  The same REI grant that provides my summer internship was used to print flyers and large signs which explain the causes of trash, the importance of removing trash, and how people can volunteer with Clean Jordan Lake.


The goal of REI is to enrich recreational experience at local places like Jordan lake.  Partnering with Clean Jordan Lake will help produce a cleaner shoreline and emphasize community involvement for the benefit of everyone.

When July 16th rolled around, I set up the display at our first location, Ebenezer Church.


As people walked by to use the restroom, they could come over and see our display. Several adults stopped to talk to me at Ebenezer. Two women thanked Clean Jordan Lake and explained how they currently support us and volunteer with their clubs. One man, an avid explorer of the outdoors, told me he “always picks up his mess” during his adventures. After two hours, I took down the display and moved over to Seaforth.


There was a larger crowd at Seaforth, providing an unique array of responses and questions. Some people assumed I was a Park Ranger, asking me for directions and even giving me lost car keys. A kind woman took multiple flyers and said she would hand them out to leaders in her organization. One man commented that there needed to be more trash cans on the beach because “people are too lazy to carry their trash back with them”. A State Park Ranger drove by and asked if he could take a dinosaur from our trash barge to add to his collection. His collection consisted of a dozen salvaged toys from the beach that he had picked up on the job.


After the two hour shift I broke camp and headed back to the storage unit. I was glad that people had stopped to read our signs and talk. Hopefully it helped them to think about their roles as visitors to the lake’s beautiful habitats.


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

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.