On two Saturdays in October each year, crowds of volunteers protect and beautify Lake Norman by collecting trash during the Big Sweep.
The Lake Norman Big Sweep – Iredell County is held on Oct. 4, while The Lake Norman Big Sweep – Lincoln County is held Oct. 11. Volunteers spend several hours picking up trash from sites selected by the events’ organizers. Mecklenburg County will hold its Big Sweep on Sept. 27.
Jill Feldmeyer of Terrell, in her last year as head of the Save Our Lake Organization, a nonprofit group that works to keep Lake Norman clean, said many volunteers are still needed for the Iredell Big Sweep, and everyone will be given a job whether on land or on water.
She said many boats are needed for this year’s sweep because the more boats there are, the more trash will be collected. Anyone willing to offer their boat for a few hours will be appreciated, she said.
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She said there is a lot of coordination to make sure everyone covers as much area as possible. The group hopes to clean 40 to 50 islands in Lake Norman as well as surrounding roadways and causeways.
Feldmeyer said the Catawba River is endangered, and if people don’t find ways to keep it clean, it will lead to bad things for the health of the water.
It amazes her how much trash comes out of Lake Norman in only two hours, she said. The increased awareness and sense of community that comes together are key highlights from the Lake Norman Big Sweep, she added.
Patty Korn head of the Lake Norman Big Sweep – Lincoln County, said in just a few hours on a Saturday morning, volunteers can make a big difference. She said having enough boats is also her main concern.
“We’re so dependent on clean water and everybody enjoys using the lake. We want it to be clean and attractive,” Korn said.
“We are surrounded by so much natural beauty but we’ve got trash in the lake and litter along the roads. Everyone appreciates a beautiful lake, so the more people we have help, the better.”
The Lake Norman Big Sweep is an extension of the North Carolina Big Sweep. The N.C. Big Sweep began in 1987 as the Beach Sweep. It has evolved through the years to include roadways, and in 2002, waterways.
Since its inception, the N.C. Big Sweep has had almost 335,000 volunteers collect more than 11 million pounds of trash from across the state.
“It makes a difference,” said Rick Gaskins, executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation said. “It makes the lake cleaner. People are reluctant to throw more trash out if the lake looks clean.”
Gaskins suggests people bring gloves to wear and tarps to cover the bottom of boats. He also suggests bringing sunscreen, a hat, towels, drinking water and shoes that can get wet but also protect feet. Trash bags will be supplied and dumpsters will be provided to unload the trash.
“There’s no cap to how many people can come out because even if we don’t get enough boats, we’ve also identified spots that are accessible from roads where we can have people go pick up trash at those locations,” Gaskins said.
Gaskins said some of the trash collected includes plastic bags, pieces of docks, bottles, broken glass, pieces of chairs, plastic toys and tires.
“It’s a good thing to do. It’s fun to do and it’s helpful. Once people see the condition the lake is in, they will want to help. In my mind, there shouldn’t be any trash out there, but when people are out here, they’re going to see other things – they might see problems with erosion or pollution from different places,” Gaskins said.
“Very often when people come back, they are enraged about this. In a way it’s a good thing, and we want people to be aware of what’s going on out there.”