Clean, at last

It took the United States Navy to clean up Lake Hancock.

Fifty-five volunteer Navy personnel spent Earth Day, April 23 at Lake Hancock hauling debris out of the area and packing it into dumpsters for recycling. The volunteers were members of the Aircraft Maintenance Group from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Each year the Navy dedicates the month of April to environmental cleanup projects, and Navy personnel volunteer at Navy property on Whidbey Island picking up debris.

This year, the Navy chose Lake Hancock, a wildlife reserve and former bombing range owned by the Navy. It is not accessible to the public because there may be unexploded munitions on part of it. But volunteers were able to work on the northwest and southeast corners of the shoreline estuary.

Volunteers arrived at Lake Hancock in the pouring rain, donning garbage bags to stay dry as they climbed over acres of driftwood piled in the lake. Lake Hancock is an estuary affected by incoming tides, thus collects a good deal of debris carried on those tides.

On this cleanup day, the tide was low so volunteers hopped from log to log to stay out of the water. As the rain quit and the sun broke out of the clouds, high winds started blowing, turning the large pieces of drifted-in Styrofoam into sails as volunteers struggled up the beach to a refuse collection site.

Most of the debris hauled out consisted of foam, tires and other plastic materials.

“We are finding all kinds of plastic bottles and tires that have been here long enough that the rims fall apart in our hands,” said Doug Vandeburgh, a Seaman First Class.

One unexpected treasure found was a small wooden boat about 7 inches long apparently carved as a school project and set afloat. The message on the boat that said, ”School Project. If found, please e-mail date and location to #252. The Tahoma school district is in south Puget Sound.

Kim Martin, public information director at Naval Air Station Whidbey in Oak Harbor said that is one message that will be answered.

“We will respond to the message and hope to hear back from the students involved,” she said.

South Whidbey activist Tony Frantz has been advocating for a cleanup effort at Lake Hancock for several years. He volunteered to do it himself, but because Lake Hancock is Navy property, he could not get permission. Frantz watched the progress of the cleanup from an overlook on the other side of Highway 525.

“It doesn’t matter who does it. I am just happy it is getting done,” Frantz said.

But Frantz also noted that there is a lot of of creosote-soaked wood in Lake Hancock that should also be removed, as it is hazardous to wildlife.

The Navy’s effort collected 1,740 pounds of trash. Because much of it was Styrofoam, Navy personnel also measured the total volume of trash collected. In all, 22 yards of waste was removed from the estuary.

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