Henry LaBounta has spent the last several months cleaning up trash from the lakes. We ran into him walking his dog with a bucket full of trash, so we decided to ask him about how he got started and why he does it. If you have a neighbor we should meet, drop their name and a brief description into the "Add Context" at the bottom of this article.
How did this project start?
When we moved here we were excited to live near the beautiful Chain of Lakes. Last summer I noticed more and more trash building up in Lake of the Isles. It got to the point where I just felt I needed to do something about it. There was too much for me to pick up in my kayak so I borrowed some waders from my Uncle Jack and gear from MPRB. It was quite a bit of work to clean up but it made a huge difference.
Why have you decided to take on the public trash problem as a personal mission?
I feel like doing this is my price of admission. If I want to enjoy the beautiful unspoiled scenery I need to keep it clean. I thought that once I got it clean it would stay clean but I've since learned that all the street storm drains empty out in the lakes. So after a big rain all the trash on the streets washes into the lakes, gross! Research shows that people are much less likely to litter in a clean area, so if we can also keep the area around the lakes clean that will help.
Tell us more about the spreadsheets, and what you have learned from them.
After doing a lot of this work when the snow melted and telling my wife about how many bags I collected she suggested that I keep track. It's been interesting to see where most of the trash is coming from. It's really easy to quickly collect a lot on and around Hennepin where there are a lot of pedestrians and businesses. Now I also try to keep that area clean so it doesn't end up in the lake. Totals for this year so far are 381 bags of trash and 45 syringes which all go into a sharps container.
What is something that has surprised you about going around cleaning up after other people?
I grew up here in the 70's and didn't remember seeing this much trash then. We now have plastic water bottles and a lot of merchandise in plastic that we didn't have then. So much plastic trash everywhere, even near, but not in trash cans. I expect there isn't as much "don't litter" public messaging these days. Business parking lots along Hennepin are surprisingly bad. It helps that a lot of people thank me when they see me working, oddly it's only older people. I expect the environment is important to all people and they would prefer to see clean streets, parks and lakes.
What ideas do you have to make things better in the future?
We really need to go upstream in preventing the trash even entering the lakes. At the very least capture the trash at the culverts before it spreads around the lake. There's mitigation plans for Cedar Lake that have been 5 years in the making, I'm hoping that works and can be used on other lakes. If we create a community association we will have a stronger voice in talking to businesses and governments about reducing litter at the source and cleaning our streets more often. If you're not interested in picking up trash you could still help by being part of Friends of Lake of the Isles FB group and adding your voice and votes to the effort.
What would you tell other people that want to get involved?
Any help, even in small ways can make a difference. I regularly walk our dog and if I see a piece of trash I pick it up, it's easy to make this a habit and your neighborhood will look so much better for it. Please join related FB groups, Friends of Lake of the Isles & Lake Hiawatha. Get involved with your neighborhood Green Team. You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, let's talk, together we can make a big difference!