It was another beautiful day of fishing for Jim Stinson and his buddies, who were situated along the shoreline of Falls Township Community Park. However, one heartbreaking vision – a blue heron attempting to fly while entangled with a fishing line – dampened the experience.
Rather than push the struggling bird from their minds, Stinson and friends decided to take action.
Previously, the group conducted regular cleanups at Levittown Lake. But because an area Boy Scout troop was already doing the same thing, they shifted their efforts to the Falls Township Community Park, which, after witnessing the bird, they knew needed attention as well.
These self-described “Stewards of the Lake” have spearheaded monthly beautification initiatives along the Falls shoreline for the last five years, collaborating with the Parks and Recreation Department and Falls supervisors Jeffry Dence and Jeff Boraski to rid the space of trash and stray fishing lines.
“We really focus on the waste fishing line that is left all over the lake shoreline, because that’s a dangerous situation for all of the wildlife around the lake. Birds get tangled up in it. They can’t fly, and therefore, they can’t feed and a lot of them just starve,” explained Stinson, a retired electrician of six years.
Trash retrieved by the Stewards of the Lake often includes Styrofoam containers, balloons and plastic six-pack carriers, the latter of which often entrap turtles.
“If they’re young and they start to grow, their growth is actually stunted by those things and they’ll carry them around, generally, all their life because they’re stretchy and they’re plastic,” Stinson said. “It’s a detriment to wildlife in general.”
Currently, there are 10 Stewards of the Lake, and, depending on availability and need, the majority spend two hours on a Sunday each month cleaning up the shoreline. While the township provides grippers and trash bags, Stinson said the group’s work is strictly volunteer.
“We try to keep it as unofficial as possible because we don’t want to make it look like we work for the township or are part of the Parks and Recreation Department. It’s just that we have their permission to do it,” he said. “We usually team up at the boat ramp and go in half. One goes one direction and the other goes the other direction, and we meet in the middle.”
In addition to the cleanups, the group is working on other ways to maintain the area. For Stinson, a proud achievement was expanding upon an Eagle Scout project to install 17 used fishing line receptacles at the lake. Stinson takes it upon himself to clean out the receptacles, which he said are often filled with regular garbage, including bags of dog poop.
“People generally are lazy and they’ll look for the easy way out. Instead of walking over to a trash can, they’ll take the bag and toss it in one of our receptacles and it jams the receptacle,” he said.
In order to make their work a little easier, the Stewards of the Lake often educate the public, especially children. The group volunteers at the annual Memorial Day Fishing Derby, during which they measure fish for the young participants and distribute prizes. Each Steward is cleared by the township to interact with the kids.
“Even when they’re just standing there throwing pebbles in the lake, it’s nice to walk up to them and talk to them and the parents, and let them know what’s going on with the lake,” Stinson said. “We do stress the ecology over there.”
The Stewards of the Lake are in the early stages of putting a manmade structure in the water to create a habitat for fish breeding. Discussions are taking place with the board of supervisors and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The habitat would be a safe haven for newly hatched fish to grow and hide from bigger game fish.
“It strengthens the population,” Stinson said.
For anyone wishing to lend a hand at a monthly cleanup, Stinson stressed that there’s no “membership,” and the plan is to keep the group as small and informal as possible. Still, if someone happens to spot the Stewards at work, he said they’re more than welcome to grab a trash bag and help.
Ultimately, the goal is to preserve the beauty of the lake…and ensure no other creatures suffer.
“Litter kills. The trash receptacles are all over the place. Use them. The more people that realize what’s going on over there, the better the gem is going to stay shiny,” Stinson said. “They don’t realize that if a cup breaks up and a bird grabs a chunk of it and swallows it, that bird is not going to be around the following day. It’s not only litter and an eyesore, it’s a health hazard to the wildlife. If you don’t preserve it, it will go away on its own. Nature will abandon itself, that’s the way I look at it.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org