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.

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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.

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