Lake Monroe Cleanup 2015- Who Forgot Their Mattress?

Jill Vance IDNR
Jill Vance, Interpretive Naturalist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources briefs volunteers before the 2015 Lake Monroe Cleanup

Who throws a mattress overboard?

That was only one of the odd, unusual and downright strange items that were picked up on Sunday, September 13, 2015 at the 3rd Annual Lake Monroe Cleanup.

A group of 40 volunteers met on the Sunday afternoon at Salt Creek State Recreation Area to scour the lake and remove the shoreline accumulation of trash, some of which has been sitting near or in the water 20 years.

lake monroe boats
A flotilla of boats heads out into Lake Monroe

The cleanup is a multi-agency effort spearheaded by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Monroe County Solid Waste District and the Monroe County Highway Department.

The idea for the cleanup originally started with the Highway Department according to DNR Interpretive Naturalist Jill Vance, the coordinator for the event. “(Prior to the first cleanup) The Highway Department actually approached me and had some money for educational and outreach purposes, so we decided that cleaning up the trash at Monroe would be a good project,” Vance said.

The Highway Department funds the boats necessary to transport volunteers out to collection sites, then haul people and trash back to the docks. The department also pays for dumpsters and food for a cookout for volunteers after the cleanup.

Six boats were used for the event, with four of them piloted by members of the Hoosier Outdoor Writers (HOW) association. Part of the HOW captain’s group included WildIndiana Field Editor Don Cranfill and Publisher Brent Wheat.

“I had a fun day on the water,” Wheat said. “I met some great people, got dirty and wet, watched the eagles soaring and we helped keep the lake looking good. I’m ready for next year!”

volunteers on boat
(clean) volunteers ready to head out

This year the cleanup focused on the mid-lake areas centered on Hardin Ridge Recreation Area. With the high water this year (the lake was 10-12 feet above normal for much of the summer) volunteers had to clamber up from the shoreline to find cans and bottles deposited by the water.

The going was quite rugged for the crews. With shorelines ranging from deep mud to steep, rocky banks, the intrepid trash pickers combed through downed trees, under rocks and even cut down fishing line from high above the water.

This year’s haul appeared to fill at least one dumpster with small trash, a large trailer with items such as tires and dock pieces, and a full trailer for bottles and cans. Not only did volunteers have to find trash, they kept recyclable materials in separate bags to reduce the amount of solid waster going to the landfill.

trash crew
A happy and dirty crew with their trash

The haul this year included a compact refrigerator, many lawn chairs and tires, a rusted truck rim, pool floats, fishing lures and the aforementioned mattress.

However, things are sometimes more interesting. “We get all kinds of stuff,” Vance said.
“There are whole sets of furniture, lots of dock piece and other stuff that makes you shake your head. Last year we found a grenade. That one we didn’t move,” Vance laughed.

trash boat
Trash filled the pontoon boats

The possible explosive was left in place and marked for the proper authorities to secure and remove. Other hazardous materials such as needles and discarded methamphetamine labs are occasionally found. But mostly, it is common junk.

Some of the most widespread items are beer cans. Throwing another muddy, can-filled bag on onto the boat, one participant noted that the beer list runs towards the low-end varieties. It would seem that either litterbugs don’t drink expensive beer or those with more refined palates are smart enough not to toss their empties overboard.

dumpster trash
Volunteers filled a trailer and dumpster with Lake Monroe trash

While some of the junk collected was from damaged docks or other inadvertent sources, the majority of the trash was left behind by thoughtless individuals who seem to think the outdoors is simply a big wastebasket. This makes trash collection is a never-ending battle.

When asked about plans for next year, Vance quickly noted her number one goal: “We need more volunteers. Our goal is to get 100 people every year. The more people, the more trash we can get and the cleaner we can keep the place.”

The 2015 Lake Monroe cleanup volunteers worked hard, got dirty and wet but certainly did their part to keep the place clean.

boat aftermath
The aftermath

TO VOLUNTEER– There are plans for a Lake Monroe cleanup in 2016. Keep an eye on WildIndiana.Com the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website Vance noted that there are currently a few slots open for volunteers to pick up trash year-around at several of Lake Monroe’s State Recreation Areas. For more information, contact Jill Vance at


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