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Bringing underwater garbage to the surface

Citizen clean up of local lakes proposed this summer



From his vantage point atop his paddleboard, Bruce Mohr gets a good look at the bottom of Alta Lake.

These days he doesn't much like what he sees.

Beer cans, golf balls, tires, the odd lawn chair.

The underwater dregs interrupt the idyllic majestic beauty everywhere else, a stark reminder that even paradise has its problems.

"It's kind of like the dog (poop) that surfaces in the spring," said Mohr.

"Just paddling around you don't want to see beer cans and golf balls. Why not have it perfectly clean?"

And so, he picked up the phone and called Councillor Roger McCarthy. And that's all it took to get the ball rolling on a grassroots lake clean up day slated for sometime in the summer.

The issue is near and dear to McCarthy's heart; he lives on Alta Lake.

After hearing Mohr's concerns and in the course of a subsequent face-to-face meeting, another community member overheard their conversation and said the problem wasn't just unique to Alta Lake; it's all Whistler's lakes.

"There's a lot of other junk on the bottom of the lakes," said McCarthy.

That's not news to 24 students at Spring Creek Community School or Keenan Moses, owner of Whistler Eco Tours, which runs guests down the River of Golden Dreams.

"The River of Golden Dreams, the last three years, has become a dumping ground," said Moses, who has noticed a marked change in recent years over the last 17 years he's been doing business on the lakes and river. There's abandoned inflatables, abandoned paddles, flip flops and more beer cans than he cares to think about.

"It's actually disgrace... It's gaining more and more momentum."

His guides pull garbage from the river almost every time they go down it.

The grade sixers at Spring Creek elementary school in Jane Millen's class have also seen the garbage on the local shorelines firsthand and have been doing their part to clean it up.

All year they have been working on a class project about reducing plastic bags, a project that began with a shoreline clean up at Alpha Lake Park, as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup every September — that snowballed into a lobby to council on why the resort should ban plastic bags. Council is taking their efforts seriously.

The Alliance of Grocery and Drug Stores in Whistler is slated to present a solution to council around the issue of reducing plastic bags at the June 18 meeting.

It is not clear if council will be making a decision at that time.

"I think there's no question that council is concerned and wants to do the right thing," said Councillor Andrée Janyk, who has been quite vociferous in her objections to plastic bags and the need to get rid of them.

"We're very proud of our Grade 6 students," she added.

But unlike the relatively slow-moving political process of banning plastic bags, said Millen, the clean up offers immediate satisfaction, proof to the kids that they are making a difference.

Last Friday they hit the shoreline again, a class outing organized by student Nikolas Rohde where four groups of students worked for an hour each. They removed a big truck tire, a 40 gallon drum, and flagged an old, buried bed frame right bedside the creek for the municipality to remove, among many other things.

"They loved it," said Millen. "They are just so jazzed about making a difference. They feel so rewarded."

Another clean up is planned for Friday, June 7 at the shoreline and the nearby waterways at Lakeside Park.

According to the 2012 stats from Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, cigarettes and cigarette filters topped the list of garbage collected on the shores in Canada at almost 417,000. Almost 99,000 food wrappers and containers were found and almost 70,000 plastic bags.

Last September the national program celebrated its 19th year with 57,000 volunteers.

This year, Millen's Grade 6 class has also been learning about the importance of wetlands, the lungs of the planet, she said, that absorb tremendous impact.

"I think it's great that people are realizing how fragile our wetland habitats are," said Millen.

Moses is in full support of a community clean up event, immediately offering the use of his boats for the initiative.

"I think it's a fabulous idea and I think we should include rivers," he said.

Meanwhile, Mohr and McCarthy are hoping to keep their grassroots clean up day as simple and effective as possible, with everyone responsible for their own safety.

"People can come with whatever gear they've got," said McCarthy.

If you're interested in joining in the grassroots clean up or in sponsoring the event contact Councillor Roger McCarthy at rmccarthy