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Volunteers help make DeGray more beautifulOriginally Published September 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 25, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
Saturday was a day to be outside at the lake. While the sun was shining brightly, it seemed the first cool breeze in months signaled that summer is coming to an end.
Along the shores of DeGray Lake, in both Hot Spring and Clark counties, around 250 people gathered to pick up trash left behind by other visitors
to the lake.
“I won’t know exactly how much trash we picked up this year for a day or two,” said Renea Guin, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the lake. “We have collected about 2 1/2 tons for the last five or six years. Before that, we used to collect 4 or 5 tons on a cleanup day. I hope that means people are getting better at keeping the lake area clean.”
Guin said the first cleanup day for the lake was in 1972, but after a few years of “fits and starts,” the cleanup day has been going continuously for 35 years, organized by both the Corps and Keeping DeGray Lake Beautiful, a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping the area well maintained.
“We have also worked to add features to the public areas around the lake,” said Russ Johnson, president and co-founder of the organization. “Along with the cleanup, we have added things like a disk-golf course and a handicapped-accessible wildlife-observation trail. It will be free and open to the public, and we have gone along the trail and have seen ducks, wild turkey
There are several teams of scuba divers who participate every year to help with the cleanup, going underwater to find items that have been dropped into the lake.
“We stayed close to shore in about 20 feet of water,” said Bill Richards, a diver who volunteered for the event. “We worked primarily around the boat launch and swim areas.”
Richards, from El Dorado, who has been gathering sunken trash for 35 years, said the divers have been finding less trash in recent years.
“Sometimes each one of us would find a truckload,” he said. “This year, together, we found one truckload.”
Tiffany Kriigel, a senior at Henderson State University, joined her diving instructor, Johnny Watley, volunteering to take part in the underwater search for trash.
We found swim masks and snorkels, fishing lures and lines, cans and even six golf balls,” she said. “We saw four large catfish swimming around; that was fascinating.”
In the water for more than an hour and working at a depth of just below 20 feet, Kriigel said the trash dive was her longest and deepest so far. The instructor said the lake water was 81 degrees on Saturday, which he said was a good environment for diving.
Watley teaches scuba to students at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, and the class is also open to students across the road at Henderson State University.
“The students from each school earn one credit for getting certified as a diver,” Watley said. “I have two classes in the fall and two in the spring.”
Kriigel said she finished the class in May.
Lucas Edens, a young diver with a group from Springhill, said he found an entire gas grill in about 20 feet of water off the banks of one of the islands.
Most of the trash was found along the shores of the lake by volunteers on foot.
“We use barges to take volunteers out to some of the areas you cannot get to with a vehicle,” Guin said.
She said church groups, a Boy Scout troop from Little Rock and members of the ROTC unit at Arkadelphia High School joined in the cleanup.
“Several groups came from Henderson State; they were very helpful,” Guin said. “There were members of the biology club, the recreation club, members of the HSU Honors College and young men and women representing HSU
fraternities and sororities.”
Guin said one sorority was worthy of special recognition.
“Tau Beta Sigma was given the task of picking up trash along the rock-covered dike area,” Guin said. “It is a large area, and the walking is hard among the rocks. They did a great job.”
After a morning of collecting trash, all the volunteers met at the Arkansas 7-area pavilion on the lake for a cookout.
“We have a big cookout, and prizes are donated by local merchants,” said Vickie Egleston, another co-founder of Keep DeGray Lake Beautiful and operator of the Iron Mountain Loge and Marina on the lake. “The people at Walmart in Arkadelphia furnished the food and drinks. In the past, I would have had to visit a lot of people and beg, but they do it all for us.”
Egleston said aluminum cans and even cellphones are often found and will be recycled.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be contacted at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.