Volunteers prepare to clean up Alta Lake

Great Lake Clean Up heads into its fifth year on Aug. 12

Garbage might still be accumulating every year in Whistler’s Alta Lake, but there’s some good news: the items are getting smaller.

“The first couple years we were pulling out old stoves and propane tanks,” said Roger McCarthy, a former Whistler councillor and organizer of the Great Lake Clean Up. “Now we’re down to beer bottles and cans.”

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The event is set to mark its fifth year of cleaning up Alta Lake on Aug. 12. When McCarthy and a group of volunteers first set out to pull trash from the water they were removing items from the past 100 years.

“When you look at how little stuff we’ve picked up that has been left by the Myrtle Philip-era… the people who preceded us were pretty good to the environment,” McCarthy said. “It’s probably through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s things got out of hand.”

The conversation around littering has changed since that time. A recent example is the positive reaction to the two men who documented their effort carrying 40 pounds of trash from Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.

“What those guys did at Joffre was really impressive,” McCarthy said. “That kind of thing helps change the mentality.”

One place that has been particularly problematic in the past: the River of Golden Dreams, which attracts throngs of floaters in inflatable rafts, often with cases of beer in hand, every summer. Backroads Whistler, which runs guided trips down the river and rents equipment to paddle it unguided, takes the time to clean up that area, McCarthy added.

“I’ve seen fewer Explorer 300s this year than I have in other years,” he said. “A couple of years ago that was the thing to do and I think maybe that’s waned a bit.”

Meanwhile, trash remains in Alta Lake, but each year the volunteers — including a group of Vancouver divers led by Henry Wang — are making a significant dent. Last year, for example, the strangest item the divers discovered was a wallet with a couple hundred dollar bills in it — clearly a case of an item falling in the lake, rather than someone carelessly littering. “I think most of what ends up in the lake is an accident,” McCarthy said.

Whether garbage ends up at the bottom of the lake by accident or on purpose, many of the same volunteers have been showing up every year to help clean it up. Whistler resident Dr. Bruce Mohr and his brother are one example, McCarthy said. “Those guys did every dock along Blueberry with masks and snorkels. The amount of stuff they got was mind boggling,” he said.

There are also the volunteers who show up with homemade inventions to scoop, pick and pinch trash out of the water. “They’re really cool to see,” McCarthy said, with a laugh.

Finally, there’s the on-shore crew, including Kimiko Taguguchi who ensures the volunteers are fed. “She coordinates the divers and runs around to the grocery stores for donations so that when they have a break she’s got all the coffee, drinks and cookies going,” he added.

While it’s encouraging to see the same faces turn up year after year, McCarthy said there’s always room for more helping hands.

Anyone who would like to participate in this year’s Great Lake Clean Up can show up at Lakeside Park on Aug. 12 at 9 a.m. 

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