LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — They call October the secret season at Lake Mead. Temperatures ease up a bit, boat traffic drops and crowds thin out. Photos from the lake come with captions describing water like glass.
That’s why it was so upsetting to Tam Larnerd to come across a waterlogged mattress and half-buried glass bottles on the beach the weekend of Oct. 14-15.
“We were out on the lake with our Sea Doos, looking for a nice beach to hang out,” Larnerd said. “We saw the boat cushions, which may have blown off a boat in a storm, but when we saw the glass bottles sitting in the sand, I was disgusted that someone would intentionally leave, not just garbage, but glass, on a beautiful beach.”
For some people, litter evokes a visceral reaction. They cannot understand how someone would do such a thing to a place that’s there for everyone to share. “Leave no trace” is a mantra they live by. But clearly, that conscience just isn’t a universal human trait.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area spends somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year on contracts and work hours dedicated to trash removal — $800,000 for two contracts, and a separate crew of 18 employees that spends more than 15,000 hours per year picking up trash, adding up to about $600,000 a year in labor costs.
“On the volunteer side, in fiscal year 2023, approximately 575 volunteers removed more than 27,000 pounds of trash from the park during litter cleanups, Operation Zero boat voyages, and adopt-a-spot outings,” according to Lake Mead spokesman John Haynes.
They’ve seen their share of trash nightmares, including bags of garbage left at the base of a “Littering Prohibited” sign. It’s maddening — but at least it was in bags. Other photos supplied by Lake Mead staff show trash from a picnic just left on the ground and a beach littered with party supplies. Styrofoam coolers, cheap barbecues and the usual paper and plastic pile up and blow around.
Discussion of the problem in one Facebook group dedicated to Lake Mead showed that quite a few people just roll up their sleeves and clean up messes when they find them. And people are looking for reasons to explain what they’re seeing, not just ranting — which would be completely understandable.
The park is looking to capitalize on that “can-do” spirit. Organized clean-ups are one way to help, along with local community groups, nonprofits and interagency efforts. The park would like to see involvement from business groups and charities. There’s plenty of work to be done.
“We can’t get people out fast enough to clean up these messes,” Haynes said.
Mike Gauthier, who took over as permanent superintendent at Lake Mead this summer, talked about the problem in a virtual community meeting at the end of September. He talked about disrespectful behavior at the park, a problem that goes far beyond trash.
He touched on the subject of boats that surfaced as water receded last year, and he wants to put together a plan to remove them if the opportunity comes again. But for now, they are below the water’s surface again.
They’re not historic artifacts. They’ve been abandoned, he said.
“We don’t want our visual to be abandoned boats. We want our visual to be people having a great time at the lake,” Gauthier said.
The recreation area covers 1.5 million acres and most of the trash piles up in the high-traffic areas. But rangers often come across messes in remote areas, and they can’t handle those kinds of problems without some help. That’s one area where community groups could play a role.
For volunteer opportunities, contact the park service at (702) 293-8714 or email LAKE_Volunteer_Coordinator@nps.gov.