How could anyone drop even the smallest bit of litter around any of our beloved lakes? It’s like splattering a gorgeous flower with grit or painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. On no level is it right — and, of course, down deep we know that.

But somehow, some way, scraps of debris manage to find their way out of our boats as we whip along, leftover wrappers and used bottles fly from our coolers, and we “forget” to tidy up after good times on the shoreline. These messy moments invade the goodness of our lakes.

Now shift that troubling vision to a happy scenario on Lake Martin where there’s a solution in action: See people just like you, people who love their lake, rushing to the rescue through Lake
Martin’s Treasured Mile Program. If you’ve ever thought of adopting, Treasured Mile has got a sliver of island or shoreline on Lake Martin that’s all yours to pamper, adore and keep clean.

You get the privilege of tending your adoptive area for two years; you receive supplies — from garbage grabbers and bags to reflective vests. And beyond restoring beauty, there’s a bonus:

You’ll be a hero, the one making a difference to the eyes that pass by and the feet that land on the shoreline.

The Treasured Mile concept stems from a happy series of events. First, Alabama Power, mandated to implement an Adopt an Island program for its federal dam contract, implemented far greater measures than the government required. And under the watch of President John Thompson, the Lake Martin Resource Association was already collecting litter on both lake and roadsides. Meanwhile, Russell Lands, under CEO Tom Lamberth, had its own programs in place.

The three entities now pool their energies in the Treasured Mile program. And it’s working.

Ken and Tonya Holland can vouch for that. They jumped in as Treasured Mile volunteers when the program began last fall. “It’s an easy thing to volunteer for because you go at your own pace — but we like the work so we can see the progress,” says Ken Holland, who drives weekly with Tonya from Brooks, Georgia, to their lot in River Oaks. The Hollands haven’t even broken ground on a house — a dock and an old-fashioned aluminum john boat suffice for now — but the couple, along with Tonya’s sister Tammie McVicker, love the art of clean-up. “The lake stacks the trash that washes into coves so all you do is bag it,” Ken Holland says. “And we all know how to put trash in bags.”

The Hollands and McVicker (whose own River Oaks house is complete) sometimes get up early on a Saturday in Georgia, drive two hours, and spend a productive day by Dennis Creek, filling many bags with odd finds. “We’ve found light bulbs — unbroken ones — toilet seats, full containers of beer, lighters and chewing tobacco cans,” Tonya Holland says. “My sister and I love collecting fishing lures so we make a game of seeing who finds the most.”

John and Deborah Owens, lake residents for 19 years, stroll the shoreline every morning, first for a quiet devotional, then to pick up litter. “The need is obvious,” John Owens says. “We’ve found things that aren’t even made anymore — an old 1930s stove, fish traps, box springs plus snuff cans and bottles.” Deborah Owens reports that on a recent weekend, the couple delivered 16 60-gallon bags of trash to the nearby River North Marina for disposal. Among the haul: old tires (lots of them), two fishing rods, an automatic dog feeder and odd bits of Styrofoam.

The Owens say that major needs follow any big holiday and most summer weekends. “You can tell when somebody had a big party on an island and just didn’t bother to clean up,” John Owens says with a sigh, adding, “If people would just carry trash containers on their boat, they could leave the island just as they found it.”

Part of the problem stems from those party types with their fun-and-flee mindset. The other culprit is a combination of winds and flowing water that push discarded garbage and natural debris — logs, limbs, leaves and such — into the numerous sloughs that nuzzle along the shoreline.

“Some of this stuff has washed into the sloughs and has just been sitting there for decades,”

LMRA’s Thompson says. “We’ve got trash coming down river, coming through the watershed from the roadsides, and trash that’s just not properly disposed of.” If he weren’t so positive and determined, Thompson might come off as frustrated, yet he assesses the magnitude of the challenge and sees the solution in the Treasured Mile Program: volunteers who care.

After all, with the success of Alabama Power’s biannual Renew Our Rivers cleanup, Thompson knows the Treasured Mile’s potential. With adoptions growing steadily — 35 percent of the 79 available segments are claimed and being tended along with 57 percent of the islands — his eye is on attracting more volunteers. Norm Young, LMRA board member and program co-founder, agrees. He is the one who plotted the “adoptee” segments and created a Google map with at-a-glance data on who tends what, and what slivers are up for grabs. A former engineer from New York, Young strives to squelch the “let somebody else deal with it” syndrome by creating accountability among lake lovers.

Russell Lands’ Lamberth concurs that awareness and action can change the landscape — literally. “When you pick up trash, which I’ve personally done with our corporate office, you become a lot more observant about what’s out there. Our four marinas have adopted shoreline segments and islands through the program; they act as pick-up points for supplies and offer assistance for unloading. We recognize that litter will never go away but that the year-round efforts will greatly help our beautiful resource.”

To top off the efforts, Alabama Power also conducts surveillance from the water monthly, cruising the entire 880 miles from one end of the lake to the other to identify and address issues.

The goal is, simply, nurturing Lake Martin’s beauty. Rich Newport, who moved to the lake three years ago from Atlanta, operates drones by day to capture aerial images of lake property for Realtors. “I love the tech stuff but at the same time I appreciate the simpler things of life at the lake. I wake up counting my blessings knowing I’m living here,” he says. That’s why Newport and his “small group” ministry from Church of the Highlands/Auburn campus have adopted a segment of Sassafras Island. “About four couples will keep it clean as a group,” Newport says,

“And we’ll be appreciating that we have this beautiful place that God created.”

For Sasha Stewart, the appreciation started in her childhood. And although she and her family have always been trash picker-uppers, she now instills that same ethic in Janson, her first-grade son. “Janson has his own little plastic rake and does exactly what we do with larger rakes. I’m teaching my son to leave the island better than it looked when we got there.”

And about that island. On the Treasured Mile map, it’s known as Island S, a relatively small one not far from the marina in Jackson’s Gap. “I know the lake so well,” says Stewart who came to this same spot with parents Jenny and Jimmy Purvis and grandparents Roy and Debbie Purvis (all still reporting for duty). “Now my husband, Jason, and our son are part of the family tradition to clean up the island.”

So there we are. Off to a solid start at Lake Martin with the finish line visible, but distant. “It’s such a huge lake,” Thompson says. “We’ll just never finish without a lot of help.”

To be part of the helping at Lake Martin, visit lmra.info; scroll down under Projects for background and an application form.

Update: As of early March more than 75 percent of the islands and 35 percent of the segments have been assigned to the program. A very large and successful cleanup was hosted by Ruben Thornton out of his Dirt Road Gourmet location February 11. Over 30 volunteers picked up sections of Hwys 229 and 50.

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