Ed Pawlik manoeuvres around a fridge after hauling it out of the ditch.

Ed Pawlik manoeuvres around a fridge after hauling it out of the ditch.

Cowichan Lake is not a dumping ground

Eight thousand pounds. That’s how much garbage was collected by Valley Fish and Game Wilderness Watch

Eight thousand pounds. That’s how much garbage was collected by Valley Fish and Game Wilderness Watch members and community volunteers on Saturday, May 19, from around Cowichan Lake.

Bill Bergen, a Wilderness Watch member says “you wouldn’t believe what we find out there.” Everything from bags of garbage to couches, fridges, gyprock, roofing shingles, wiring, plastic, batteries, and much much more.

Each year the Wilderness Watch does at least one major clean-up of the lake area including Lake Cowichan, Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay, and Youbou, but also the entire logging road loop around the lake itself. Dennis Martel, who used to be the Wilderness Watch coordinator before he retired, says that he has seen as much as 18 tons of garbage taken to Meades Creek Recycling.

This year, Bergen helped to coordinate two teams who were sent out to pick up from marked spots which he had scouted out the week before. On the Lake Cowichan and Honeymoon Bay side of the lake were Karli and Eli Parnell—who are not members of the Wilderness Watch but came to help out for the day—Dean, Courtney, and Dalton Bolitho, who are also not members but came to help out, and Ed Pawlik who is a lifetime member. Pawlik and Bergen rode together up past Honeymoon Bay, and they took me along with them. Even though Bergen had marked specific areas where he had found garbage to be picked up, Pawlik stopped the truck many times in between these spots because garbage was spotted by the two along the side of the road or off in the bush.

They took me up to the Honeymoon Bay lookout spot and from there we ventured up an old logging road to find a fridge that had been dumped down an embankment on the side of the road.

Being too large to carry up the steep, shale embankment, Bergen and Pawlik had a plan. They set up a block and tackle system connected to a tree on the other side of the road and hooked one end to the truck and the other to the fridge. It only took moments for Pawlik to pull the old fridge (pocked with holes from shot gun and rifle bullets) up onto the road.

This is nothing new. The two have had many years of experience dealing with this kind of garbage pick-up from around the lake. Both men still find themselves disgusted at the amount of garbage they find. “It’s such a shame,” they both kept saying. “Especially when most of the garbage we find can be dropped of at Meades Creek Recycling for free.”

The Heritage Days weekend is the first time Wilderness Watch has tried the clean-up on a long weekend, and Bergen says they chose to do so as a kind of experiment. He was aiming to generate awareness within the area about the problem. And it did seem to help. While Bergen and his teams were out collecting, they had several people stop and ask what they were up to.

Both Bergen and Pawlik told me that they are never able to collect all of the garbage they find. One example of this that I saw while venturing out with them, was a tree growing out of the centre of two old tires. Bergen said he would have to return with some kind of cutting utensil in order to take them off. Another example was a dump of household garbage at the Honeymoon Bay lookout, where there was glass, tins, and wiring for electronics. It was hard to find all of the garbage in amongst the grass, moss, and organic debris that had grown around it.

Bergen would like to remind residents and visitors to the area that their garbage does not just affect the environment, but local wildlife as well. He has seen animals tangled in wires, birds caught in six pack rings, and much more. “It’s just not right.”

Martel says that perhaps part of the problem is the change Meades Creek recycling makes to their hours from summer to winter. “We have got to have the funds to keep Meades Creek open,” he says. He is concerned with where residents will take their trash if they live in Youbou or Honeymoon Bay, and says that most people will not take the time to drive into Bings Creek Solid Waste Management near Duncan.

Martel feels that today, getting people to dispose of their garbage in a respectful manner is all about education. There are a wide range of things that can be taken to the recycle stations for free, such as paint, garden and yard organic waste, batteries, tires, fridges, tubes. “These are all free,” he says. “Why not give them to the dump to recycle?”

Meades Creek posts their hours as Wednesday through Sunday 9 am to 5 pm – April 1st to October 31st and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday only, 9 am to 5 pm – November 1st to March 31st.

Wilderness Watch will be doing another clean-up sometime during the summer. No date has been set, but if you are interested in volunteering, you can go to the Valley Fish and Game website: valleyfishandgame.com. Valley Fish and Game is the parent organization to Wilderness Watch.