TRAVERSE CITY — Jack Lankford went out for a “plog” Sunday.
The 18-year-old Traverse City resident popped in his earbuds, grabbed a couple of 30-gallon black garbage bags and jogged along West End Beach at Clinch Park, snagging up any trash he saw along the way after a raucous Fourth of July celebration Saturday. That combo of jogging and picking up litter is referred to by many as “plogging.”
Lankford plogged his way around Traverse City beaches the last few years to help clean up after visitors and other residents get into the festive spirit of the holiday by blowing up of fireworks, knocking back several cold ones and grilling burgers, hot dogs or ribs. All of that leaves plenty of trash on city beaches and in the water.
Lankford finished with two full garbage bags after two hours. He said seeing all of the trash on the normally pristine beaches saddens him, but added he can’t be mad at those leaving the litter behind. He knows alcohol plays a role and can make people “lazy and forgetful.”
Cleaning up is his responsibility as a good host, he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s not me who did it and it’s not my fault — but it is my town. I live here,” he said. “I don’t want to live in a junked-out town, so I’ll do my part.”
Most are not as understanding as Lankford.
Tracie Lord is the president of the Traverse Area Paddle Club, whose members often take to the Boardman Lake, Boardman River and other local waterways to clean up. She does not understand how anyone can just leave garbage behind without a shred of guilt. She suggests fines in the range of “hundreds of dollars” to deter polluters.
After seeing some of the pictures of local beaches online, Lord said she wanted to “just sit and cry.”
“It’s just unbelievable what people come up here and do,” she said. “How would they feel if we did that in their front yard? What if it just stayed like that? Would they come back and sit in all that garbage? It’s just ridiculous.”
Lord believes people like Lankford are “angels.”
“Anybody that does a cleanup — a mom taking her kids with some Tom’s bags or someone just walking through and picking up — that’s great,” she said. “Anybody that picks up someone else’s trash gets a gold star from me.”
There was plenty to pick up at Torch Lake after the annual Independence Day shindig on the sandbar. Everything from bottles and beer cans to food wrappers, cigarettes and puddles of glitter floated on the water or washed up on shore. Beach chairs and even a charcoal grill were left discarded in the water.
Norm Neuenschwander, the treasurer of the Torch Lake Protection Alliance, said he’s never seen so many people on the sandbar. He lives a mile downriver along Crystal Beach Road and said there were cars parked bumper to bumper.
He said he does not understand why people would “defile a lake as beautiful as Torch.”
“There’s no excuse for that,” he said. “There’s no reason to dump trash out there.”
Neuenschwander said the alliance works to educate people about the damage such pollution causes, but added it’s a challenge to reach anyone who isn’t a resident or regular visitor of the area.
Three separate studies from the Watershed Council, the Great Lakes Environmental Center and the 3 Lakes Association, estimate it takes between 10 to 18 years for Torch Lake to cleanse itself and flush pollutants. That time frame is reset every year — not only by the Fourth of July party at the sandbar, but by the general use of the lake throughout the year.
“You can just see this cloud out at the sandbar,” Neuenschwander said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Neuenschwander is thankful to have police and other authorities keeping an eye on things.
Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean said Saturday they do not tolerate any littering.
“That’s zero tolerance,” he said. “You’ve got to have zero tolerance. Otherwise, it just gets away from you.”
Some in Glen Lake, like Hollie Heider, are worried the celebration in their town could morph into something similar to Torch Lake.
Heider said there is loud music, people peeing off the sides of boats, speeding boats and jet skis along with the regular amount of garbage — including the occasional urine-filled bottle that washes up on shore.
“They’re such beautiful lakes,” Heider said. “We’re not the type of homeowners who believe that the lake is ours just because we live on it, but it needs to be something we all respect. We can’t let it get so out of hand that we can’t scale back.”
Whether Fourth of July celebrations are scaled back or not, pollution is still likely to be a problem. People like Lankford, Lord, Neuenschwander and others willing to pick up trash will still be needed.
“It’s just something that has to be done,” Lankford said.