SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Va. – A Smith Mountain Lake park manager is calling on community members to change their ways after noticing major trash accumulation in the area.
In May, 166 volunteers collected about 16 tons of trash at Smith Mountain Lake, according to a Take Pride in Smith Mountain Lake cleanup report.
During the cleanup, volunteers from the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and Smith Mountain Lake Association covered about 48 miles and found cigarette lighters, a gas can, a toilet seat, a 39-foot tree and even a tire with rims.
In addition, Smith Mountain Lake State Park switched to paper bags and started to sell reusable straws several years ago to help curb plastic usage; however, Park Manager Brian Heft said most single-use plastic like food containers and juice bottles are still being left behind on trails and buried in the beaches.
“I’ve been here for 34 years and I have never seen things be as bad as they are now,” Heft said. “People just throw trash out the window. They leave trash when they leave the park. So, we are just really trying to get people to realize what they are doing to the environment.”
This weekend, some people celebrated Pirate Days at Smith Mountain Lake by throwing water balloons. It’s a concern for park rangers as turtles may eat the balloons thinking it is a jellyfish.
Heft said this year, they are having trouble hiring more staff so the trash accumulation is becoming more of a burden.
In March, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order to phase out single-use plastics at state agencies, colleges and universities by 2025.