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Great Lake Cleanup returns for seventh summer

Volunteer cleanup efforts kick off at Lakeside Park at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 22

CLEANUP CREW - Whistler's Great Lake Cleanup is returning for the seventh summer in a row. Those interested in volunteering are asked to meet at Lakeside park on Saturday, June 22 around 8 a.m. Photo submitted

Get your waste-collecting weapons of choice ready-the annual Great Lake Cleanup is returning to Whistler for the seventh year.

"Time flies when you're having fun hauling old crap out of the lake," said organizer Roger McCarthy with a laugh.

This year, cleanup efforts will focus on Alta Lake and Lost Lake-"the two lakes that see the most traffic," noted McCarthy. Volunteers are scheduled to meet around 8 a.m. at Lakeside Park in Alta Vista on Saturday to kick things off.

Those interested in helping out can head out on barges, boats and paddleboards to scan the shoreline and lake bottom, clearing up whatever waste they find with their "weapons of choice," as McCarthy puts it. Those cleanup tools have taken the form of everything from fishing nets with extra-long handles to long poles with a type of mechanical hand on the end.

This year, the volunteer crew will once again include Divers for Cleaner Lakes + Oceans Team, a group of divers from the Lower Mainland that donate their time and equipment to keeping the South Coast's waters clean.

However, there is an additional draw for this group to Whistler, McCarthy explained.

"They like to come up here because, as surprising and as bizarre as this might sound, they're actually diving at elevation, about 2,000 feet (about 610 metres) above sea level," McCarthy explained. "Even though I find it hard to believe, there is some kind of pressure difference."

Divers and volunteers will give the waters around West Side Road, Rainbow Park and Blueberry docks some special attention, and not just because a particularly interesting treasure-a departure the typical beer cans, bathing suits and "floaty things that don't float anymore"-was discovered near the popular docks two years ago.

"There's always stuff that falls in the water, blows into the water, that people throw in the water. There'll be the usual array of beer bottles and beer cans, but we did find a wallet with 100 bucks in it," McCarthy said.

Waste collected from Green Lake during last year's Great Lake Cleanup. Photo submitted

Last year's cleanup targeted Green Lake, where McCarthy said volunteers collected at least ten garbage cans full of waste, much of which he theorizes blew or washed in from the River of Golden Dreams.

Despite that hefty estimate, McCarthy said he's noticed an "unbelievable" difference in the amount of waste that cleanup crews collect since the event began seven years ago.

"Every year we go out there, there's just less and less and less stuff to drag out of the lake, which is a great thing," he said.

"The first year, "we probably had 30, 40 years worth of junk in the lake. Now we're down to just one year ('s worth) of stuff."

To that end, Whistler's five valley lakes-Alpha, Nita, Alta, Green and Lost Lakes-are unique and should be appropriately appreciated, McCarthy emphasized.

"It's a truly amazing asset and we take it for granted because it's here ... This asset is something that really sets this resort apart.

"I'm looking out the window right now and there's a bride and groom out there and she's got this lovely white dress on, the guy's all dressed up in a black suit, and there's tons of people walking around them in their bathing suits," continued McCarthy with a laugh, over the phone from his home near Rainbow Park.

"The paradox is quite interesting. But there's all kinds of people who use the lake for a whole variety of things."

In addition to the dive team and volunteer crew, the event is supported by local sponsors including Whistler Fire Rescue, Backroads Whistler, Creekside Market, Nesters Market, Hostel International, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Fairmount Chateau Whistler and Gnarlyroots Pizza & Burger Cafe.