ROXBURY, NJ - Shortly after 8 o’clock on a misty Saturday morning recently, the collars of two green-plaid boots could be seen peeking up above the dark-gray muck just off Brady Road in Jefferson Township.

Barely a step away, Cora Haughney was desperately trying to find her balance on one foot, which she’d managed to plant on a friend’s clean boot while in a wobbly embrace. The willowy 15-year-old had surrendered both boots to the clutches of the Lake Hopatcong shoreline while volunteering for a recent cleanup effort, organized by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and the Lake Hopatcong Commission.

Cora’s mother, meanwhile, balanced on slippery rocks as she bent over to try to yank the boots out. One at a time, each with loud shlurrrps, Roxana Scanlon managed to free the footwear and wrangle them back onto her grateful daughter’s feet.

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“It looked simple, like we could just walk out there and start picking things up, but the muck just sucks you in,” said Scanlon. “Still, I don’t regret coming out to help with the cleanup. Everything can be washed.”

Scanlon and her daughter were among more than 400 volunteers who defied the rainy weather and sloppy conditions to remove trash from along the lake’s shoreline on Nov. 3, while the water level was low due to a draw-down that began in mid-September. 

“We’ve lived here all our lives,” Cora said, proudly, “and we want to make sure it stays clean and livable for other people.”

That sentiment was echoed by many of the stalwarts who teamed up to tackle a trash problem that becomes increasingly evident as the lake is lowered, inch-by-inch.

The state draws down Lake Hopatcong by 60 inches every five years to allow property owners to repair docks and seawalls. The draw-down can also help to kill off unwanted aquatic plants in shallow areas, while facilitating cleanup efforts.

Five years ago, during the first lake-wide cleanup, tons of debris was pulled from along the 50-mile shoreline. The unfortunate inventory included 1,100 tires, 2,000 cans and 1,500 glass bottles.

The haul was lighter this year, but no less noteworthy. Volunteers logged more than 1,000 hours to collect a dizzying amount of debris, including 4,000 drink containers, 300 plastic bags, 175 toys, 150 articles of clothing and more than 800 tires. The unseemly assortment of items also featured patio furniture, bowling balls, vacuum cleaners, a canoe and a television.

“Even with the rain and the muck, it was an amazing day for Lake Hopatcong,” said Lake Hopatcong Foundation President Jess Murphy. “Any time you have an opportunity to bring people together to do something good for the environment, it’s a great thing. Lake Hopatcong is healthier today, and so is the community that surrounds it.”

Behind Lee’s County Park Marina on Howard Boulevard, Kristen Hand led a cadre of Girl Scouts as they combed the beach for trash. The Mount Arlington site was one of more than 50 around the lake where volunteers teamed up for the cleanup.

Hand and co-team leader Darlene Rinaldi had recruited 15 Girl Scouts, representing Troops 95611, 96119 and 96078, to tackle what was the windiest and likely the chilliest location of the morning. Rinaldi, also a Girl Scout leader, and her crew had cleaned up Mount Arlington Beach earlier in the morning.

“We’re always looking for community service projects to participate in,” said Hand, noting her charges had found some interesting objects along the shoreline, including socks, rugs, a toy truck and an entire animal skull.

“The weather was rough here, but none of the girls have complained,” she added. “It’s great because it’s giving them a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of pride in their community.”

Back north, by the Glasser Post Office in Hopatcong, a team of eight volunteers was picking their way among the rocks and docks in Henderson Cove. Nearby resident Christine Shay, a veteran of the 2013 lake-wide cleanup, was among the workers who piled up mud-caked tires, tools and trash in a corner of the adjacent parking lot.

“I’m an outdoorsy person and I love the lake,” said Shay, who noted it was much colder during the cleanup five years ago, and that there was more trash to remove. “It really bothers me when people trash places and just throw things in the water without thinking. I wish they’d be a little more mindful about what they’re doing.”

Stuff 'Too Gross to Mention'

At the southern end of the lake, Tom Lupo and a few other Scoutmasters were stationed at Hopatcong State Park in Landing. They’d accompanied seven Boy Scouts from Troop 91/151, a merged group from Stanhope and Byram.

By the end of the morning, Lupo’s crew was spotted filling trash bags on Clambake Point, a couple hundred feet beyond the end of the public beach. Their horrible haul included bedroom slippers, bottles, picnic plates, fishing gear and, said Lupo, “some other things probably too gross to mention.”

“I want the boys to learn that being a Scout involves being part of the community and being aware of the environment,” said Lupo. “We want them to know how important it is to keep the lake clean. That’s all just part of the Scouting experience.”

The cleanup was coordinated by the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and the Lake Hopatcong Commission with grant funding from the Morris and Sussex County Clean Communities programs as well as the MetLife Foundation.

“The cleanup was a huge success, thanks to the volunteers who showed up despite very challenging conditions,” said LHF Grants and Program Director Donna Macalle-Holly, who coordinated the project. “We had outstanding support from Girl and Boy Scout troops, along with several other groups.” 

Teams included students from Montclair State University, the Academy for Environmental Science at Jefferson High School, and Hilltop Country Day School in Sparta.  Employee teams were also recruited by MetLife and local businesses, including Suburban Consulting, Ridge Powersports, Mason Street Pub and Main Lake Market.

Also rolling up their sleeves for the cleanup were mayors from around the lake including Roxbury Mayor Mark Crowley, Hopatcong Borough Mayor Mike Francis and Mount Arlington Mayor Mike Stanzilis.

In addition to participating in the cleanup, Francis also transported debris and tires to drop off locations in Hopatcong. “I really appreciate all the volunteers participating in this cleanup because they know how precious our lake is and how important it is to work together to take care of it,” said Francis.

The removal of debris was handled by departments of public works from Hopatcong, Jefferson, Mount Arlington and Roxbury, tires were cleaned by Hopatcong Fire Departments and will be recycled by Bridgestone's Tires4ward Program.

The Lake Hopatcong Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to protecting the lake environment and enhancing the lake experience by bringing together public and private resources to encourage a culture of sustainability and stewardship on and around New Jersey’s largest lake, for this and future generations. To learn more, visit lakehopatcongfoundation.org.