Unearthing trash at Lake Iamonia

July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills

paddlers on Lake Iamonia at dawn April 2014 by Georgia Ackerman

Convincing family, friends and colleagues that crawling through the woods or trekking along roads picking up trash is great fun is typically a tough sell. Just ask my kids. Luckily, I have learned a reliable formula for volunteer recruitment for such events. Experience has demonstrated that ingredients for successful involvement typically include chips with salsa, good humor, homemade baked goods and a spectacular sunset. Add some Earth Day themed fervor and an expert guest speaker at a mysterious lake, and indeed the enthusiastic, gloved helpers will show up and pitch in.

A group of 12, quickly dubbed the Dirty Dozen, arrived at Lake Iamonia’s boat ramp on a Tuesday after work to commemorate Earth Day in Tallahassee recently. The paddlers and walkers volunteered to clean up a section of shoreline along Leon County’s largest natural lake and learn more about Lake Iamonia’s ecological oddities.

Michael Hill, a retired biologist from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met the small-but-mighty team at a snack covered picnic table a stone’s throw from the ramp where a handful of fishermen were trailering their boats for the drive home. Hill easily engaged the volunteers with photos depicting the disappearing sinkhole lake with acreage that ebbs and flows from 150 to 5757 acres due to its natural dry down cycle. He told of the earthen dam constructed in 1938 in effort to mistakenly “save the lake” and he described the by-pass canal gates later removed in 2000.

Hill explained that Lake Iamonia routinely drains leaving the sun-exposed floor to dry out which is natural and healthy for the fish and aquatic plants. The buildup of tons of aquatic muck along the bottom of the lake due to the dam’s intervention has been costly and time consuming to remove. The lake has been returned to its more natural cycle.

Shane Wellendorf, who enjoys duck hunting on the lake, later summed it up stating, “It’s a fascinating 6,000 acre bathtub and occasionally the plug gets pulled.” Lake Iamonia drains into numerous sinkholes every few years. It also shrinks during dry times with evaporation. Rain fills it up. Ochlockonee River also feeds Lake Iamonia during flooding.

Via multiple sinkholes, Lake Iamonia connects to the Floridan Aquifer — the source of the ground water supply for the Red Hills Region of north Florida and southwest Georgia. The aquifer also fuels numerous springs in Florida. The Floridan aquifer, one of the biggest producing aquifers in the world, extends into Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. I ponder these watery connections later as I sift through nearly 300 pounds of garbage collected by the 12 caring Earth Day volunteers.

Michael Hill concluded his brief talk and answered questions. Then, the Dirty Dozen set out to make a small dent on the large lake with two hours to collect debris before sunset, thus keeping the decomposing particles out of the lake and our aquifer. Elizabeth Swiman of FSU’s Sustainable Campus, who has organized countless clean-up events including the colossal Chuck it for Charity, settled into her kayak and said she was eager to get on Lake Iamonia for the first time to recover some sunken treasure (trash). Chiles High School student, Jacob Dienger, agreed with her and joined Elizabeth on the water. Four hearty paddlers extracted countless bait containers, beer cans, plastic bags and chunks of foam coolers along the lake’s shore line. The most peculiar item found was a like-new wok plucked out of the water grass.

The walkers with trash bags dangling from belt loops spread out through the woods along a trail to the by-pass canal (built in 1978). An impromptu discussion of poison-ivy and broken glass quickly ensued as high grass and low-hanging tree branches were traversed. Proving both nimble and merry, my teenage daughter among them, the land team bagged 20 lawn bags full of random debris. Lighters, cans, rotting sneakers, plastic bottles, shotgun shells, cigarette butts and so on were piled high in bags after multiple treks into the woods. Oddly enough, a perfect quality spatula was found to compliment the wok discovered out on the water. Speculation about how a wok ended up in the lake later served as post clean up entertainment while the group admired alligators and a vibrant orange sunset.

To learn more about field trips in the Red Hills including lake and trail cleanups, contact Georgia Ackerman at Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy. gackerman@ttrs.org.

Watch a video about Lake Iamonia and Floridan aquifer

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