Project Eagle Cleans Up Chain Of Lakes After Yearlong Hiatus
by James Coulter
Bike wheels, plastic baby toys, and even a dog bed were all pulled out of the Chain of Lakes in Winter Haven during this year’s Project Eagle. Hosted by Keep Winter Haven Clean and Beautiful, the annual lakeside cleanup is held every Earth Day to remove trash from the waters of the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes.
Volunteers gather at the shore of Lake Shipp Park early in the morning and either go out into the water by boat or walk along the lake shores to collect litter. By noon, they return to the park to celebrate their work with free food, music, and other activities.
The Earth Day event was started in 1989 through a partnership with the Wildlife Commission. Since then, the annual cleanup has cleared tons of debris from the local lakes. Previous years have seen as much as nearly one ton of garbage removed, said Event Chair Tracey Mercer.
Though she does not know the exact amount that was retrieved this year, Mercer has heard stories from volunteers who have removed nearly everything and anything from out of the water during this year’s event on Saturday. Many have filled 60-gallon construction bags to the brim, she said.
“They found a lot of things floating around in the water,” she said. “One of them said they found a dog bed, but they have not found the dog yet.”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, last year’s event was unable to be hosted as scheduled. This year’s event received a small yet serviceable turnout after a year-long hiatus, Mercer said.
Most previous events, on average, have drawn 300 to 500 attendees. While 200 attendees were expected this year, only 100 people attended, Mercer said. Nevertheless, no matter how big or small the turnout, even one person doing the most that they can on their own can make a big difference.
“We did not have as many people, but we had a lot of trash, especially because of last year with all of the rain and things that carries all the things from the road and land into the lake,” she said. “And a lot more people come out and help…to make sure we get this before it becomes a problem in our lakes.”
Rhonda Todd, Executive Director of Keep Winter Haven Clean and Beautiful, has been with the non-profit organization for seven months. This was her first year participating in the cleanup. However, she has been involved with the Winter Haven community for nearly 25 years.
With this year being her first, she was impressed by the beautiful “Chamber of Commerce” weather, which helped to draw in volunteers that day. Overall, she loved the sense of community. Everyone was enthusiastic and excited to help do their part in keeping their local community and lakes clean.
“If we don’t take care of it, no one will,” she said. “Our lakes are such a precious resource and a gem within our community and we have to treat them better and keep them clean for many years.”
Melanie Brown, a local organizer who has supervised many community events, offered her own hand in organizing this year’s event. She toured many of the lakeside eateries like Tanner’s, Twisted Prop, and Old Man Franks offering t-shirts to volunteers and participants. She also brought in local musician Rob Dennis to perform live music.
Brown appreciates how Project Eagle has been going strong for the past 30 years. Such dedication inspired her to participate for the past seven years. Recently, she helped raise proceeds for the event during their Crawlin on the Chain fundraiser last month at Tanner’s Lakeside.
“Basically, [I love] all of the community keeping this together to support and keep our chain clean,” she said. “We live in such a beautiful community to keep it all free and looking good and for everybody to enjoy themselves on our beautiful chain.”