Overrun by tons of trash, Percy Priest Lake seeks lifeline
Cleanup targets popular spot
John McFadden and his son prepare for most camping trips on the islands of J. Percy Priest Lake with three 55-gallon trash bags.
“It’s not unusual for us to fill those bags when we get there,” said McFadden, Tennessee Environmental Council executive director. “I sail on the lake, and I camp there about three times a year. There’s an underlying problem with our society. It’s a lack of respect and appreciation for nature, which is the backbone of our community.”
The 7 million fishermen, campers and other lake users who visit each year contribute to the litter, but last year’s historic flood amplified the problem with stormwater and debris from neighborhoods across the area.
Nashville Clean Water Project and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have planned a Sept. 24 cleanup of the 33,000 acres of land and water, which feeds into Nashville’s drinking water and serves as one of Middle Tennessee’s favorite recreation locations. The volunteer group and rangers are hoping to gather about 400 volunteers for the first cleanup at Percy Priest since the flood.
The two agencies have worked for the past four years to solve the 40-year trash problem at the lake, but there are still tons of debris, said Mark Thien, co-organizer of the volunteer cleanup.
“We already have about 120 people signed up, but the need is great when you’re talking about this much land and water,” Thien said. “This area saw 14-and-a-half feet of water, so the islands along Percy Priest became a filter.”
ext week’s cleanup will target two islands, Rivers Bend and Poole Knobs, that were hit the hardest by old and new waste over the past year.
Everything from Gatorade bottles to pop-top Budweiser cans to broken flip-flops can be found spread across Percy Priest’s 12 camping islands.
Volunteers ages 16 and older are welcome to take part in clearing those islands, the lower lake and areas closer to the homes that surround Percy Priest.
Nashville Clean Water Project heads about two cleanups each year at the lake, but the last two were rained out.
“Not staying on schedule with the cleanups has meant all this stormwater waste has sat here since the flood,” Thien said. “I think seeing the trash here has undoubtedly contributed to people leaving more trash. They see it, so they add to it.”
3 littering citations written this year
Army Corps of Engineers gives citations to those caught littering in or around the lake, said Todd Yann, Percy Priest Lake resource manager. Three citations and five warnings have been written to littering lake users this year. With only a handful of rangers patrolling the area, it’s hard to handle the trash problem and enforce the law, Yann said.
“We just don’t have the people to be everywhere at all times, so that’s why we rely on the volunteer responses like these,” he said.
Courtney Wilson, Army Corps of Engineers ranger, said she hopes that along with clearing the debris, volunteers gain knowledge of the prolonged effects of water pollution.
The broken pieces of Styrofoam, plastic and glass in the water and on land can be consumed by wildlife and aquatic creatures. Because Metro Water Services treats the lake’s water for drinking, keeping the water clean is just as important to humans, Wilson said.
“I hope they’ll gain an appreciation for what’s here because this is a large resource that a lot of cities don’t have,” she said.
The volunteer effort, sponsored by Bridgestone Americas and Waste Management, has the backing of Impact Nashville, Mayor Karl Dean’s initiative that matches volunteers with some of the city’s most significant community projects. It’s also one of dozens of national projects that will be endorsed by National Public Lands Day, the country’s largest single-day volunteer event of public lands, Thien said.
Several Tennessee Environmental Council members plan to be on hand for the event, McFadden said. Between the hundreds of volunteers and those who regularly recreate at Percy Priest, he said he hopes to soon see a change at Nashville’s largest body of water.
“It’s worth the time and effort to take care of this thing,” he said. “It’s the value of one of God’s creation, so hopefully those who come out will begin to think, ‘What am I doing? Am I a part of the solution or part of the problem?’ ”
Contact Stephanie Toone at 615-259-8079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.